I know it sounds like a headline out of RAMP, AllAccess, or Jockline Daily.
Kermit the Frog has exited “Sesame Street”
Like hundreds of radio firings, this one surprised a lot of Mupppets fans – including the guy who’s been doing the voice of Kermit since 1990.
The voice actor in question is Steve Whitmire, who took over for original muppeteer, the late Jim Henson, 27 years ago.
Whitmire is shattered by the move, claiming he had “been outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets” since Disney bought the franchise in 2004, but that his dismissal was an overreaction by the company.
Disney management, on the other hand, claims that Whitmire engaged in what they’re calling “unacceptable business conduct.” (Obviously, the legal department was consulted.) According to MSN, sources say Whitmire’s style was “overly hostile and unproductive,” which led to production delays.
And so it goes. To radio people, this probably sounds like another case of those “philosophical differences” that often come between talent and management.
Whitmire now wishes in retrospect Disney would have issued him an ultimatum before pulling the trigger. Management, on the other hand, must feel like they’ve given him plenty of warning, and now they’ve had enough. You can hear in Whitmire’s story just how regretful he is about the entire situation – wishing there was a way to turn back the clock and resolve the issue. Disney is moving on.
And that’s another sign that in just about every showbiz category – movies, TV, radio, and even, children’s entertainment – a single personality does not overshadow a brand.
You’ve heard the line before: No one’s bigger than the radio station.
And in this case, no muppet is bigger than “Sesame Street.” Disney has already found its next “Kermit” – Matt Vogel – ironically, a voice actor Whitmire says he assisted along the way.
In just a few weeks, I’ll be headed to Atlanta for the 29th “Morning Show Boot Camp” – an event filled with hundreds of aspirational radio DJs, hosts, and teams. Some of them are integral to their stations, outperforming everyone else on the station and contributing mightily to the sales effort.
And everyone of them is as vulnerable as Steve Whitmire.
Hopefully, some of them will take note of this sad Muppets story, and possibly apply it to their own situations. Talent can push the envelope with management – but only so far.
Of course, there’s another side to this story. And that’s the collateral damage Disney has suffered in extensive media coverage of Whitmire’s fate – mostly bad. There’s often a price to be paid when a big, bad corporation wields the axe against a loyal, long-time, popular star.
Social media is littered with fans crying “unfair” because of Whitmire’s ouster from Muppetland. And the story has been covered on every media outlet from Entertainment Weekly to NPR.
Interestingly, sites like MuppetCentral.com have been resurrected by thousands of fans conjecturing about this controversy, and the future of the franchise.
That’s the risk management runs in a heated social environment where everyone has a voice, a story, and a way to take their message to their fans. What’s the cost of losing a heritage talent versus ridding the organization of turbulence from a disgruntled star? Corporate teams run those calculations every time there’s a controversy involving a star player who’s unhappy.
Talent vs. management – it’s a battle that’s as old as show business. And one that continues to be waged today, albeit in new arenas and outlets. Based on many of the comments on MuppetCentral.com, most fans are taking a wait-and-see approach over Vogel, the Kermit in waiting.
Who knows? The controversy and attention could invigorate the brand, sparking all kinds of debates among Gen Zers (and more likely, their parents and grandparents who grew up with the Muppets.)
Some impasses and breakdowns are inevitable and unpreventable. Sometimes, there’s just no way both sides can come together to resolve a raw, emotional dispute.
Steve Whitmire may have lost his voice, but his fans sure have discovered theirs.
Wonder what the guy who speaks for Miss Piggy is thinking.
That’s right – it’s a guy. His name is Eric Jacobsen, and he’s probably checking his contract.
I’ll be moderating an outstanding panel of pros at Don Anthony’s “Morning Show Boot Camp, August 3-4, in Atlanta. Amplifi Media’s Steve Goldstein, iHeartMedia’s Chris Peterson, Cox Media Group’s Tim Clarke, and Entercom’s Kim Reis will be discussing the skills and attributes talent can develop to be more competitive in an uncertain media future. Hope to see you there. Details here.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.