It's almost kind of hard for me to believe that it was ten years ago today that Steve was officially born to the world; I think of this as something of a milestone, if only because Steve is, so far, the only character I've ever developed that has survived for this long.
Steve's genesis is kind of an interesting one... it really isn't a stretch for me to say that when he was first developed, he wasn't anything like he is today, mainly because his personality wasn't really fully established. In fact, he really didn't have much personality at all... the only thing that was established from day one that's still in use today (albeit seldom) is his disdain for anyone calling him, "Stevie."
When I first built Steve in August 2004, I didn't intend on really using him in the manner of which I did. I was fifteen-years-old at the time - still young, still ambitious, still immature, and had my head in the clouds far more than I do now - I really had my sights set on someday being a Muppet Performer on SESAME STREET, and I thought if I was able to move up in the ranks and establish myself as a performer, that Steve could be a signature character of mine (which, to me, made sense, as I am now publically admitting for the first time that Steve's overall character design is pretty much borrowed from an Anything Muppet monster seen at least once or two on SESAME STREET in the 1970s, though some of you either already knew that, or already figured that out... and for the record, that's the only time I've done such a thing). To the best of memory, Steve's character, at the time, was that he was a wannabe comedian. I could see it now: he had a makeshift comedy club on the roof of 123, but the jokes and routines he told were so corny or cliched, that nobody really found them funny; Grover would have been his best friend, since somehow, Grover never managed to drive him crazy (that, and I was on a Grover kick at the time), though he would have a habit of calling him Stevie, resulting in Steve snapping, "Don't call me, Stevie!" (Interestingly, my fellow puppeteer, Missey Wright, thought the routine was a nod to the movie AIRPLANE!, but I hadn't seen the movie at the time, and I wasn't aware of Leslie Nielsen's iconic line, "Don't call me Shirley.")
Speaking of which, I was an intern at ETPBS (East Tennessee PBS, then known as ETPtv) at the time, and we were just getting ready for the summer 2004 Friends of Sesame Street Pledge Drive to help support and fund children's programming on PBS (we did two a year, one for two weeks in March, and other for a week in August). I had heard that Missey - who was their regular puppeteer for pledge drives - was unavailable to attend, and that they were thinking about trying to find somebody else, or foregoing puppets altogether; I offered to be a substitute. I wasn't officially a puppeteer at that point yet - I had a strong interest in puppetry, and a desire to be a puppeteer, but I wasn't actually performing yet (Kids on the Block had expressed interest in hiring me to be a performer, but I never heard back from them). They agreed to give me a shot, but there was just one problem: I needed a puppet to actually perform. I was already in the process of building Steve, just to play around and practice with, so I rushed to finish him (and boy, did it show in the beginning). The Friday before we were to start, I brought Steve in to give a little demonstration for Chris Smith, my supervisor; I don't even remember what I did as a demonstration, but they were impressed enough to let me do it. Monday finally came along, and considering this was going to be live on the air, broadcasting in multiple viewing areas (East Tennessee, southern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and the western ends of both Carolinas), I was a little uneasy about possibly not being quick enough on my toes to pull this off, but amazingly, so much of my focus and attention was drawn down to the monitor between my knees, that everything else around me was a void of nothingness; I was separated from the rest of the world, and in a world of my own that felt so natural, that I can't remember ever having any major catastrophes... a few errors, perhaps, but I was learning as I was going.
But this isn't about me, this is about Steve. On Monday, August 9, 2004, Steve made his debut as a fill-in for Missey's character - a girl named Karla - to show his support for his favorite programs on PBS Kids (this pre-dates the PBS Kids GO! era). At the time, however, Steve still didn't have any personality to speak of, he was really just a generic monster puppet appearing on TV screens to inform kids to have their parents phone in their pledges of support, and they, in turn, would receive thank you gestures, such as t-shirts, bouncy balls, frisbees, circus tickets, Chick-fil-A coupons, among other little goodies; but one day, that all changed. Another one of my ETP colleagues, Russ Manning - who has contributed some terrific input to my work - had this wild idea: he saw something potentially funny in having Steve be something of a casanova wannabe. Every now and then, Russ would have Steve flirt with one of the phone girls, or one of his fellow on air personalities, and as it turned out, it was funny; that was a personality trait that ended up sticking, which is why even to this day Steve likes to think of himself as quite the ladies' monster.
Even then, Steve had an active imagination.
Karla and Steve
I think Steve went over fairly well his initial week on ETP - he seemed to be something of a hit with everyone in the studio, and I think there may have been an occasion or two where a kid phoned into the station to try and talk to him. Whatever the case may be, it seemed to warrant an invitation to have Steve return for further pledge drives. Missey returned for the March 2005 pledge drive, and after getting acquainted, they had Karla and Steve on air together; it worked pretty well for both Karla and Steve, to have another puppet character to interact with... at first. From a technical aspect, apparently there were too many mics on that particular set for the control room, so Karla and Steve were later separated, and Steve was given Karla's old position, while Karla was promoted to her own newsdesk segment (something that was proposed for Steve for station bumpers and promos, but never materialized, though the idea was later recycled for the MONSTROCITY NEWS entries of Steve's YouTube series).
THE KARLA REPORT and MONSTROCITY NEWS
Steve made his internet debut on YouTube, December 26, 2007.
There was no question in having Steve return for the August 2005 pledge drive, but after that, ETP quietly ceased having on air pledge drives for rather sound reasons, and as such, Steve ended up being put to rest for a while. At that time, I hadn't quite made up my mind whether to persue a career in puppetry, or animation: I was taking an animation course my senior year, but by the time that was over, I was so burned out on animation that I swore it off forever, and decided to go with puppetry instead: it came more natural to me, and it felt far more satisifying to manipulate a puppet in real time and get instant results, as opposed to manipulating a drawn figure on a computer screen, frame by frame, and only getting a few second's worth of results that took hours (and sometimes days) to achieve. By then, I also started getting ideas for other shows and characters, so it made sense to stick with puppetry; but there was still a matter of Steve: what was I going to do with him? By the end of 2007, I had a thought: YouTube was still relatively new (Google's fascism hadn't set in for another couple of years), and I had a camcorder, with a pull-out LCD screen that could serve as a monitor; why not take advantage of using a pre-social media YouTube to do something with Steve, and put both him and myself out there? I didn't have a whole lot to work with at first: most of those earlier entries on YouTube were mostly reactions to what was in the news (such as the survey conducted in London that children don't like clowns), or just having Steve lip-sync to a song. It was fun to do, and slowly but surely, Steve started getting a little attention from people who appreciate puppetry - especially the film and television style of puppetry Jim Henson innovated with the Muppets - and it all seemed to snowball a little from there. As time went on, Steve's small yet dedicated fanbase seemed to grow, and at the same time, so did Steve's personality: no longer was he just a generic monster character; the more I played around with him, the more I was able to find his character, and he grew into the little self interested and self absorbed prima donna, with the slight little mischevious streak, and a love for the ladies, that people know him as today (and it's interesting that at one point, his fanbase was largely female).
D'Monster for 2012
YouTube was certainly a wonderful tool in helping spread Steve's exposure to a far broader scope, taking him from a nice-sized viewership just in the East Tennessee and surrounding areas, to an even nicer-sized viewership that spans not just across the U.S., but also Canada, the U.K., and Australia. In those years, as the series progressed, more effort was put into the entries: while Steve still maintained his little intimacy with viewers, more and more entries were planned in greater detail, with some reflecting current events, holidays, and at times, the series even got topical with reviews from movies to politics, to Steve even running for President in 2012. Later still, entries were given actual plots and scenarios for Steve to act in. But, as the old saying goes, "There's a little bad in everything good." Eventually, Google's control over YouTube became far more biased - YouTube began favoring partner channels that generate revenue for them (therefore, putting money in their pockets), and as such, smaller channels began being swept under the rug; a combination of a serious decline in Steve's viewership on YouTube, and feeling I've done as much as I could, I decided to end Steve's YouTube series in the spring of 2013 - after seven seasons, and 63 entries. This was also going to allow me to ponder on trying to focus on other projects within The Joseph Scarbrough Universe, including the ambitious anthology special, PUPPET POWER (for which Steve served hosting duty).
Steve hosted the webspecial PUPPET POWER
And now, here it is, 2014, ten years since Steve first graced TV screens (seven since he first graced computer screens). In all these years, one thing that I've recently come to realize is Steve is actually the hardest character for me to write for... I guess I've performed him in such spontaneity for so many years, that any dialogue for him feels more natural and in-character if it comes off the cuff, rather than off a script page; it's hard to describe, but if a line is written for him, even if it's a line he would probably say, it still feels artificial doing that line, rather than doing a line on the spur of the moment. But, all that aside, it's an interesting feeling to be looking back on ten years of Steve being in existence; I've certainly enjoyed what I've done with him, and there's even more areas I'd certainly would have liked to explore with him... but has Steve stood the test of time? Has he left an impression on the public? I honestly don't know, and I don't even really think it's my place to answer that, I think that's up to the people to decide.
I would like to thank those of you who have been watching all of Steve's exploits and escapades these past ten years, whether you've watched him show his support for public television, or get himself into unusual situations on the internet, or host faux news programs and web specials; I certainly hope you've enjoyed all of this. If you have a favorite moment from all of this, please feel free to comment, I appreciate getting feedback, and I'd like to know what you've personally enjoyed.