Until now, Bill Prady has arguably been best known as the co-creator (with Chuck Lorre) of THE BIG BANG THEORY. Now, however, he is dealing with a whole different batch of eccentric types as the executive producer/show runner/co-creator (with Bob Kushell) of ABC’s THE MUPPETS, which premieres Tuesday, September 22, at 8 PM.
Within its own version of the Hollywood universe, THE MUPPETS goes behind the scenes with Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang as Miss Piggy launches her new talk show, “Up Late With Miss Piggy,” produced by Kermit. Kermit is determined not to let their romantic break-up get in their way professionally. Good luck with that, green guy. The show will feature real celebrities and musical guests.
Prady actually has plenty of Muppets in his history, having started his entertainment industry career with the late Jim Henson, original creator of the Muppets, at Jim Henson Productions (then called Henson Associates), writing for FRAGGLE ROCK and THE JIM HENSON HOUR, and later on THE MUPPETS CELEBRATE JIM HENSON and MUPPET*VISION 3-D.
ASSIGNMENT X: Did you know about the Muppets before you became professionally involved with Jim Henson, back when they were on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and so on?
BILL PRADY: Sure. I was a very young person at the time, but absolutely, yes. Like everyone else, I absolutely grew up with the Muppets.
AX: How was working with Jim Henson back when you started?
PRADY: I [was asking] questions to generate the EPK [electronic press kit] stuff. And I said, “Jim, this project for you is really a chance to work with Bill Prady, wasn’t it?” I’m twenty-four. I am an obnoxious kid. And Jim goes, “Oh, yes. Bill is one of the finest writers working today.” Then he just cracks up. He was such a warm [person].
When I took the job with THE MUPPETS, I was working in the licensing division, which is like toys and merchandise. And there weren’t writers around, because THE MUPPET SHOW was out of production, so there were always little things that came in to the p.r. department that weren’t getting done. So if somebody asks for a press quote from Kermit the Frog, and there isn’t a writer around, there’s no way to generate that. So I went into the p.r. office, and there was literally a stack on someone’s desk, and I picked it up and I said, “Can I try some of these if you’re not going to do them anyway?”
That year, the post office was putting out a “Love” stamp with a puppy on it, and they wanted Rowlf the Dog to produce it. And I thought, “Dogs and mailmen – that’s kind of funny.” And I wrote a piece about Rowlf the Dog taking this opportunity to clear up the misunderstandings between dogs and mailmen, and how dogs love mailmen, and how they don’t want them to go, but the mailmen have to go, so maybe the dog tugs on the pant leg, and then maybe the mailman really has to leave, so the dog sinks his teeth into the sweet flesh of their calf, and then Rowlf collected himself and said, “But I digress.” So I wrote that and I just handed it back and my office – I had a series of offices at THE MUPPETS that were tiny little offices, and I remember Jim Henson, who was tall, he was 6’6”, and he came in and he said – and you have to remember also that Jim and Kermit had the same voice, so when Jim spoke to you, it was like Kermit talking to you – “Did you write this thing for Rowlf?” And I said, “I did.” And he said, “I think we’re going to do it.” And I said, “Okay. You want any changes?” And he said, “No. It’s pretty good. We’ll just do it like this.” And that was startling.
AX: What was the most important lesson that you learned as a creative professional during that time?
PRADY: What Jim did, first and foremost, is, he made a television show he liked. And he would say, “You don’t know somebody else’s taste, you only know yours.” And so I try to do that. I try to make a television show that I would want to watch and that I would enjoy. That’s what Jim did. I can’t make the show that Jim would make, I can only make the show that I’d make, but I can do it with the same philosophy he did. You can only make something you like. That’s the only ability you have. So make something you like.
AX: You’ve said you originally came up with the idea for this documentary-style MUPPETS about eight years ago. Was that before this faux-documentary style was big?
PRADY: No. THE OFFICE was on the air.
AX: When that came on, did you think, “Oh, the Muppets should do this”?
PRADY: Yes [laughs]. I think you can do a Muppet take on anything, but some things you look at and you say, “Boy, that’s right.”
AX: Was it your idea that Kermit and Piggy should break up?
PRADY: I’m going to have to say that’s Kermit and Piggy’s idea [laughs].
AX: What are some of the challenges particular to making a Muppet mockumentary?
PRADY: When you’re trying to get this documentary shot, doing “sloppy” shots, they’re puppets, and so all those shots that are haphazard and look messy and casual and unplanned, are carefully planned.
AX: Do you see any character similarities between the egos of Miss Piggy on THE MUPPETS and Sheldon on THE BIG BANG THEORY?
PRADY: No. It’s a very different kind of ego. Sheldon doesn’t think he’s smarter or righter than anyone else – he knows he is. And I think Piggy comes from a place of great insecurity. Miss Piggy is one of those people who gets up in the morning and puts on that face. If Piggy’s close to anyone, it’s the Roy Scheider character in ALL THAT JAZZ. I think she gets up in the morning and, “It’s showtime!” and goes out in the world. One of the things I want to do, and Piggy sounded very upset about it, but I’d love to do a scene where we catch her in the morning before she has the makeup on. I don’t think we’ve ever seen her without eye shadow.
AX: After your early success with Rowlf, do you especially enjoy writing his character?
PRADY: All the Muppets are fun to write for. I love writing for Piggy, I always have.
AX: What about some of the less prominent Muppets?
PRADY: You know, we’ve been having so much fun writing Animal. He talks about, he’s going to go work out, I think he was going to start cross-fit. Animal has been a little surprise. I love Gonzo. We’re writing Gonzo as the writer. Writers think writers are awesome, so that’s been a thing. Writing for Kermit is awesome, but Kermit I find the closest to someone you’d just know.
In many cases, it was very easy to see what [the characters] would have become if you look at what they did on THE MUPPET SHOW. So in THE MUPPET SHOW, Scooter was a p.a. or a gofer, because it was theatre. So he’s the talent coordinator [for “Up Late With Miss Piggy”]. We absolutely think that there’s a direct transition. And Sam Eagle is ABC Broadcast Standards. And he doesn’t care for what they’re doing. The band is the band. We gave Rowlf a bar across the street where he can play the piano, and a big inspiration for that is the scene in the original MUPPET MOVIE, where Kermit goes to see Rowlf and Rowlf’s playing the piano, and he says, “I’ve never seen a guy that green have the blues that bad.” And I love that scene. And I thought, “Let’s make a place where we can have that happen.”
AX: Are there back stories that we’ll see as viewers that you’ve already talked about with the longtime Muppet personnel?
PRADY: Well, yeah. There are things those of us who’ve worked with the Muppets have always known. We know Piggy comes from a farm, she’s a farm girl. So if you know that, it informs what you might see. Does she have a relative who embarrasses her? Maybe. What’s it like to go home with her? Does she go home, or is she one of those people who’s uncomfortable with where she came from? Knowing all of that, you have a rich thing to draw on of stuff that no one ever saw [before].
AX: There was a pilot presentation that’s been made available to the public. Will any of that be part of the actual series?
PRADY: Everything [had to be] reshot, but some scenes survive. Margo Harshman [as Fozzie’s girlfriend Becky] does not continue on with us in the series. Becky is now played by the absolutely incredible Riki Lindhome. She is one of the proofs of the existence of a kind God. She’s amazing. And Jere Burns and Meagan Fay continue as Becky’s parents. So we’re going to do that scene, but that scene is actually the first scene of a story where Fozzie attempts to win them over, and it doesn’t go well.
AX: There’s a nerdy Muppet in the pilot presentation who is the subject of a joke about being obscure. Is he from a previous Muppet series?
PRADY: That is a character from THE JIM HENSON HOUR. It was designed by the great Muppet designer Michael Frith, who was there for years, with whom I worked directly. [The character] was a computer nerd on THE JIM HENSON HOUR, he’s the IT guy on this. And if you look at the puppet, he’s an egghead. But if you look at him again, and it took me awhile, it’s a drawing of me. Right down to the glasses that I wore then. Everyone knew, and at one point, I said, “The puppet kind of looks …” And everyone burst out laughing. But what’s really bizarre is that Dave Goelz has given him this insane voice. It’s a different puppeteer than THE JIM HENSON HOUR. So Dave’s given him this really muffle-mouth kind of voice. Dave Goelz is the original performer of Gonzo. He goes back forty years.
AX: Are there other original Muppet performers on THE MUPPETS?
PRADY: Steve Whitmire [who now voices Kermit] goes back to THE MUPPET SHOW – he originated Rizzo the Rat and other characters. Some of the other performers go back varying amounts. Dave Rudman goes back awhile to right after THE MUPPET SHOW.
AX: Can you talk about the phenomenon of seeing actors and reporters wind up relating to Kermit, Miss Piggy and other Muppets as if they’re living individuals, even when their puppeteers are clearly visible? Actors have talked about winding up treating the Muppets as if they were fellow actors on the set.
PRADY: As you do. There are a lot of reasons. One is an odd technical reason. Like any actor who is trying to stay in character, if you have an actor who is doing an accent, for example, between takes, they keep the accent going. And it’s not because they’re an affected, Method crazy person, it’s because accents are hard to do, and if you’ve found the groove, you keep it going, so when you start the scene again, you don’t have to find it. Muppeteers do the same thing. They’ve got the groove, you’re doing this crazy thing where you’re talking and keeping your hand moving, so between the takes, you keep it going. Also, you might be working on blocking, and you might say, “Well, I’ll go here and Kermit, you go there.” So you talk to Kermit. And if Kermit talks to you, you talk back to him. So it’s just a very, very natural and reasonable thing to do.
AX: A lot of stars from other ABC shows have turned up in promos for THE MUPPETS. Will we see them wandering in and out of the series?
PRADY: Here’s what we say in our fictional little world. We believe that all ABC shows shoot on a lot together, so it’s entirely possible for our guys to walk through the cafeteria and see [Anthony Anderson], the star of BLACK-ISH and say, “Hey, Anthony, how’s it going?” That’s a thing that could absolutely happen. We know that in a story, there’s a thing that involves knowing that Tom Bergeron is next door doing DANCING WITH THE STARS. That plays into a story. They exist in our world.
AX: Will we see Paul Williams or Bret McKenzie or anybody associated with the musical legacy of the Muppets?
PRADY: You could. Mostly, music will come from the show within the show.
AX: So Kermit won’t be singing?
PRADY: No, no more than you would. I don’t know how much you would.
AX: Having begun your career with Jim Henson and the Muppets, how does it feel now having custody of Henson’s creations, as it were? What kind of impact does that have on what you’re doing now?
PRADY: It’s an incredibly profound emotional experience that I can’t [fully articulate]. I remember him really fondly. I have found myself missing him at points in my career on days that surprise me, that he isn’t around. I mean, I was very young and he was a profound impact. I apologize – it’s hard to talk about.
AX: How are you dividing up your time between THE MUPPETS and THE BIG BANG THEORY?
AX: Are you planning on cloning yourself?
AX: What would you most like people to know about THE MUPPETS?
PRADY: Oh, that it’s very good and they should watch it.
This interview was conducted at ABC’s party for the Television Critics Association summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Interview with THE MUPPETS creator Bill Prady on new ABC comedy series