1 The Muppet Mindset: December 2010

Dec 31, 2010

The Muppet Year in Review, 2010

Here we are, Muppet fans: the last day of 2010. It's been quite the roller coaster year for me--but darn it, if it hasn't been the best year of my life! Through it all, The Muppets Studio, Sesame Workshop, and The Jim Henson Company have been working their tails off to shower us with Muppet goodness. There has been so much to be thrilled about over the past 365 days, so I've compiled this list of the biggest highlights off last year--and would you believe that this is only the major developments? Let's start where any good year does... January!

January -
  • The Muppets appear on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Jan. 3rd - Only the third day of the year and we've already got a terrific Muppet appearance! Animal drives the bus, Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Floyd, and Pepe sing "Just One Person" and Miss Piggy brings down the house (most literally).
  • Disney launches "Give a Day. Get a Disney Day." campaign starring The Muppets - From TV spots, in-park promotions, parade appearances, and a whole website where The Muppets say your name, the "Give a Day" campaign almost made me go out and volunteer! Almost.
  • The Muppets appear on America's Funniest Home Videos, Jan. 10 - Just over a week into 2010 and we have two major Muppet TV appearances. The Muppets volunteered to help Tom Bergeron host AFV to tie-in with the "Give a Day" campaign--yet the only real volunteer was Miss Piggy's girdle. (Don't tell her I said that.)
  • Muppeteer Jerry Nelson releases solo album Truro Daydreams - And yea, verily, it was good--nay, GREAT. And my iPod was never the same.
  • Cookie Monster appears on Cake Boss, Jan. 17 - "You Cake Boss? Me LOVE cake! Can me have fork?"
  • The Muppet Show Comic Book goes On the Road and becomes a continuing series - On the road and off the shelves!
  • Flight of the Conchords creator James Bobin named director of the new Muppet movie - And the Muppet world collectively shrugs and says, "Sure, why not?"
February -
  • "Beaker's Ballad" debuts on The Muppets Studio's YouTube Channel - Beaker sings "Dust in the Wind" and we're all blown away! (Or we all at least feel a slight breeze.)
  • Muppet King Arthur is released - And the jokes are really up to the usual Muppet excaliber. Ahh! Wocka! Wocka!
March -
April -
May -
June -
July -
August -
September - 
October - 
November -

December -
Happy New Year, Muppet fans! I can't wait to share the excitement that 2011 will surely hold with all of you! We're entering the year of The Muppets, the year of Sesame Street's 42nd season, and the year of what is sure to be an avalanche of Muppety goodness.









The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

      Dec 30, 2010

      Muppet Fan Testimonials: Michael Wermuth, Jr.

      Michael Wermuth, Jr. - I’ve been a Muppet fan all my life. My first memory of the Muppets is watching the opening credits sequence from The Great Muppet Caper. I was born the same year that Muppet Babies premiered. My earliest memories of watching Sesame Street seem to begin during the 19th season, though I feel I saw it earlier than that. I also saw Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting in its original broadcast, and recall watching The Jim Henson Hour at least twice during its original run. I also watched Dinosaurs regularly during the show’s run.

      While I had always been a Muppet fan, I think my obsession started to become an obsession in 1992. My grandparents had given me every volume of Jim Henson’s Muppet Stories that year, and during the summer I often watched my copy of A Muppet Family Christmas, and started to pay attention to how several characters looked. Then on the first day of school that year me and my classmates looked through magazines for some sort of project, and I saw several pictures of Muppets, and noticed that they looked different than in A Muppet Family Christmas. So after school I watched the few Muppet videos I had at the time, and on my next few trips to the video store I would rent Muppet videos (that video store had four of The Muppet Show compilation videos released by Playhouse Video, and five videos from Jim Henson’s Play-Along Video label).

      Lucky for me this was a very good time to be a fan of the Muppets. Around this time I got cable and Nickelodeon just started airing Muppet Babies reruns, and would soon start airing old Muppet specials, and a couple of years later Nickelodeon would start airing reruns of The Muppet Show. The Disney Channel started airing reruns of Fraggle Rock, and although I didn’t have the channel at the time I did get to watch the show regularly. The Muppet Christmas Carol was released in theaters that year. And best of all, the Jim Henson Records and Jim Henson Video lines had started.

      I first learned that the Muppets were really puppets when Nickelodeon aired "The Secrets of the Muppets." In fact I think this was what made me learn that what happens on TV and in movies wasn’t real (I had seen a number of animated cartoons in which characters worked in movie sets, but was ignorant of what was going on). I wasn’t disappointed that the Muppets weren’t real, though; In fact I thought it was cool. And this helped make a few things I noticed make sense to me: I had started to notice that the movies listed the names of the Muppet characters underneath other names, I had noticed the arm wires of the characters but didn’t know before why they were there, and I had noticed that many of the characters legs weren’t shown much. And I believe I learned the names of the Muppet performers quickly, faster than I’d learned the names of many celebrities and voice actors. In 1994 I obtained a copy of The Story of Jim Henson: Creator of the Muppets, and later that year I saw the Great Performances documentary “The World of Jim Henson”, which helped me learn more about Jim Henson and the Muppets.

      In 1996 my household got the internet, and the first website I visited was the old Muppet Home Page by Bill Sherman. I would soon look at other Muppet websites, my favorites being Muppet Central, Tough Pigs, Muppet Wiki, and of course The Muppet Mindset. I regularly lurked around the various Muppet message boards before finally joining the Muppet Central message board (under the name minor muppetz, in part because I like many of the minor characters). And I’ve made many great contributions to Muppet Wiki and The Muppet Mindset.

      For years I have had a strong desire to be an actor, writer, and maybe director, and I feel a big part of this desire was due to the Muppets (after all, many Muppet productions involve the characters putting on a show or production of some sort). In 2009 I started a YouTube channel, mwermuthland. Many of my videos include references to the Muppets, and in some of them I wear a t-shirt featuring Muppet characters. One video I did, “Harftoons Flashlights”, was inspired by the Wilkins Coffee commercials. I’ve done a handful of variety show videos called “eMpty-TV”, all of which so far include at least one sketch with my Palisades Toys Muppet action figures (the Muppet segments were also uploaded separately as stand-alone videos). Another of my videos, “Xormorphic News Program #18: What News?”, ends with a long, meaningful tribute to Jim Henson (among a variety of funny, fictitious news stories). I included my Statler, Waldorf, Pops, and Dr. Strangepork action figures in a video called "Old People Vs. Slackers" (based on a late-1990s Game Boy Pocket commercial). And there have been many other references, too numerous for me to name.

      In conclusion, the Muppets are one of my biggest obsessions. I do enjoy other things, like Looney Tunes and Family Guy, but the Muppets are at the top of my interests.







      The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

      Dec 29, 2010

      "?" with Jarrod Fairclough - "Why Does Pepe Say 'Okay' at the End of Most Sentences?" UPDATE


      Jarrod Fairclough Presents "?"
      "Because Asking Questions Is a Good Way to Find out Things"
      ANSWER: "Why does Pepe say 'okay' at the end of most sentences?"


      Jarrod Fairclough - Hello friends with heads, and welcome to my next (kind of) instalment of “?”, where instead of coming up with a new question (I do have one, but I’m waiting on an e-mail for the answer), I am instead going to give you an updated answer on my last question, "Why does Pepe say ‘okay’ at the end of most sentences?"

      You may recall we had answers from people on the forum, and on the article, and then one from Jim Lewis.  Well, the answer finally came in while I was in America from Mr Bill Barretta himself, and i figured that was worth a follow up article.  So, enjoy in its copied and pasted glory, the answer from the horses (prawns?) mouth!

      “Hi Jarrod,

      Sorry, I just saw this... so I hope it's not too late.

      The reason Pepe, often says "okay" at the end of a sentence, which by the way, people tend to think that a question mark follows it (noticed you didn't do that), but it's actually a statement.

      Pepe is based on my wife's aunt (no longer with us) who was from Madrid, Spain but lived in California for about 30 years. This was simply the way she spoke. "You are wearing a beautiful shirt, okay." "We're going to the mall, okay." She was basically confirming what she was saying and I always thought that was a funny character trait of hers...and she was quite a character. There's a lot more of her than just "okay" in Pepe.

      As a matter of fact and better still, her name was Maria Theresa and in my wife's family there are actually a few more Maria Theresa's, so...when I met her family in Madrid, the way they distinguished her from the others was by giving her the name Maria Theresa Okay. Pretty funny huh?

      Hope this answers the question for ya, sorry it took so long,  Bill”

      So it’s exactly what I wrote last time, but I figured Bill went out of his way to answer, so I should share it with you.

      So there you go, and I’ll be seeing you sometime soon.

      Until then, have a good day!

      Jarrod







      The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

      Dec 28, 2010

      Interview with Muppeteer Gabriel Velez


      Today we have an interview that we're very excited about! Our friend Kevin Williams sat down for a wonderful, multi-part interview with Gabriel Velez. Gabriel has worked on numerous projects with The Muppets and Sesame Street, including The Muppets Take Manhattan, Elmo's Christmas Countdown, and starred as the asthmatic Anything Muppet "Dani" in the Sesame Street Special "A is for Asthma." Recently, Gabriel was part of Disney's Muppet understudy auditions, and has provided us with a unique, inside look at those auditions. Gabriel tells his story much better than I do, so with no further ado...

      KEVIN:   How did you join the Muppets?


      GABRIEL:   First off, I had never picked up a real puppet. When I was about 7 years old, my school had finger puppets, and at home I cut a mouth into a rubber Spalding ball to make it look like it was talking.But that was it. Never did anything with puppets. As a little boy of about 9, I wrote to Jim Henson because I was a fan of his appearances on Ed Sullivan. Jim actually wrote me back a hand-written letter encouraging me to join the Puppeteers of America. At the age of 9, I had no idea how to pursue that.

      I’m not great with dates, but I think it was 1979 (when I was 21), when I lived in NYC that I read in the TV Guide that the Muppets had a business called Henson Associates in Manhattan. I looked up their address in the phone book and wrote a letter to Jim Henson saying; "I’d like to join the Muppets." Jim didn’t write back, so I wrote the same letter again to Frank Oz. And about 6 months later to my shock, Frank actually wrote back from England saying he would put my letter in a future audition file. I said to myself, “They’ll never call me. I’ve never even picked up a puppet.” Two years later they wrote me telling me to send them a voice tape. I guess it was 1981. I had nothing better to do that summer so I messed around with a cassette recorder and put 8 or 10 voices to tape.

      Next thing I know they called me on the phone and told me to come in we want to meet you. So I went to one of the Henson buildings on 67th street in Manhattan. It was an audition! I almost walked out! I had never been to one of those before. Sitting across from me auditioning for the Muppets for the first time was Marty Robinson. I will always remember the smells of glues and being overwhelmed by the sites of outrageous fabrics and materials and puppet props throughout the building. How cool was that! Anyway, as I was escorted into a room to meet Jane Henson and Richard Hunt, I overheard Richard say to Jane: “This is the guy we’ve been waiting to meet all day.” I’m sure he said that because of the different character voices on the tape I had sent in, not because I had any experience. I had no résumé since I had never done this kind of thing before. I walked in empty handed.

      Richard led me over to a table of monster Muppets. He told me to grab anyone. Just by chance the first Muppet I ever put on was an unknown little red monster who eventually years later became Elmo. Richard put me through a quick try out. Everything he had me do with the Muppet seemed quite simple and natural to me.

      To make a long story short, they asked me if I wanted to be part of a workshop class they were having. I agreed. We would get training from Kermit Love, Jane Henson, Richard Hunt, and Carroll Spinney. Jim was not originally involved. Every week this huge workshop class would drop people. Maybe the first class had over 200 people I guess, then the following week 80, then 60, then 50 and more and more were dropped every following week. Until the last workshop class had only 12.

      Of the final 12, everyone in that group would become reserve Muppeteers. (At least that was the original intention.) Jane Henson told us that they auditioned about 1,000 people and we were the final 12. The final 12 included me and Marty Robinson and Pam Arciero. I’m glad to know that after so many years, I can still call them pals. Jane Henson and Richard Hunt were amazed that I made it through every week of training considering I had never picked up a puppet before. The other finalists had previous experience in puppetry. Not long after that, I was offered a short term job working at 117 east 69th Street, their headquarters. And Marty was offered Snuffy.

      I guess in 1983 (?) there was another workshop class of about 100 new people. This time it was led by Jim Henson. Of the final 12 reserve Muppeteers, only Pam and I managed to stay and not get cut. The others did not return or were quickly dropped from this new class being held by Jim. Marty Robinson did not have to participate because he was already hired on Sesame Street.

      In this new workshop class the competition was very tough. Jim dropped a lot of hopefuls very quickly. After a few weeks, it got down to about seven of us left. It was nice to have private training with Jim Henson and Frank Oz over at their main building at 117. At this workshop class I first met Noel MacNeal and Camille Bonora. It was all leading to an audition for Sesame Street. I was asked to audition for Osvaldo the Grouch. Pam Arciero and newbie Camille Bonora were auditioning for Grundgetta. Osvaldo the Grouch had existed rarely on Sesame Street puppeteered by Richard Hunt with a voiceover done by someone I believe named Umberto Noritz. Not sure.

      KEVIN:   How did you first meet Jim Henson?


      Gabriel with Jim Henson
      GABRIEL:   I was a new employee of the company working at 117. I was told my job title was "jack-of-all-trades." Not puppeteer. I was washing down the Muppet mobile (an unmarked Dodge Van) on the street and Jim and Jane were strolling up the sidewalk. Jane came over with Jim, and Jane introduced me to Jim as their newest employee. We shook hands and Jim smiled and said “Welcome aboard!” We spoke for less than a minute and I was happy as a clam. I heard the Kermit tone in his natural voice and while washing the van afterwards I kept thinking, “That hand I shook was Kermit!”

      KEVIN:   How did you first meet Frank Oz?

      Frank on the set of The Muppets Take Manhattan
      GABRIEL:   It was my first Muppet payday on the set of The Muppets Take Manhattan. During a break, I went into the men’s room and there was Frank Oz taking a leak. My excitement got the better of me and I just went up to him and introduced myself and struck up a conversation with him while he was urinating. I think I scared him silly. He probably doesn’t remember that, I hope. Mental Note: Never strike up a conversation with a celebrity while they are urinating.

      KEVIN:   How did you first meet Kevin Clash?

      Working with Elmo and Rosita
      GABRIEL:   I’m pretty sure it was around 1983 or 1984 on the set of Sesame Street. I never gave it much thought of how he joined the Muppets until I read his book. He joined the company in a different way than I did, not through workshop classes/auditions like others. I don’t recall our first moment of meeting though. I do recall a conversation we were having about him preparing to ask a girl to marry him who did become his wife. That might have been one of our first conversations.

      KEVIN:   Let me throw a few names at you; Jim Henson.

      GABRIEL:   A respectful gentlemen with a vision.

      KEVIN:   Frank Oz.

      GABRIEL:   Hmm, his way or no way. But who can argue with such talent?

      KEVIN:   Eric Jacobson.

      GABRIEL:   I've met Eric and told him what a wonderful job he has done. I scrutinize (as a fan) every Muppet recasting that has been done and Eric gets a thumbs up.

      KEVIN:   Steve Whitmire.

      GABRIEL:   A great talent that has never been used to his full potential.

      KEVIN:   Huh? ...Care to elaborate?

      GABRIEL:   My opinion is that once he was offered Kermit, his career was painted into a corner. (My opinion.) Over the years I have wanted to see the man produce more original characters and it hasn't happened because he is tied to Kermit. Whitmire should have the freedom to develop say three or four characters, marketable characters, that will put his talent over the top in ways Muppet fans would be excited about. He should be allowed to grow.

      A perfect example of this is Bill Barretta, he has been given the freedom to create original characters that are awesome. His talents have made Barretta a much loved Muppet icon. Barretta did it right and this is the kind of future career growth I would like to see for Steve.

      {Laughing} If I was in charge I would really exploit character development and growth for all the Muppeteers. I was the Talent Coordinator on the kid show "Pappyland" and I loved teaching and expanding the levels of puppetry performance on our show.

      KEVIN:   Kevin Clash.

      GABRIEL:   Kevin is another guy with great talent that I believe has other great characters in him waiting to come out. I don't think Elmo is his zenith. Just you wait and see.

      KEVIN:   Jane Henson.

      GABRIEL:   A great lady who has given so much to the art of puppetry by sharing talent and her kind heart with others, amazing.

      You know there are many other great Muppeteers (besides me, ha, ha, ha) that just boggle the mind with talent. Joey Mazzarino, Matt Vogel, John Kennedy and other puppeteers are perfect examples. There just isn't a venue to showcase the specific talent of these individuals. There are also others waiting in the wings that will someday be the future of the company. It all comes down to finding the right situation to bring us all together as one body of talent, one expanded family. And that is what management should strive for. Mainly at Disney.

      I believe the established Disney Muppet stars should hold their own workshop to train and reevaluate the great pool of talented puppeteers that Disney auditioned three years ago. Let the Muppeteers themselves evaluate the talent pool. Not like Disney did when the workshop class was headed by a non-Muppeteer. Having a successful understudy/training program is essential to the growth of ANY company. As long as employment is GUARANTEED to the star performers. A perfect example is Matt Vogel understudying to Carroll Spinney's Big Bird. There is no animosity between the two. One helped train the other with mutual respect. So should it be at a future Disney Muppet workshop.

      I believe in a performance team that shares on-camera talent equally. That allows for a company to have even growth and to further evaluate the talent they have. I don't believe any one performer should hog the spotlight.

      KEVIN:   You were one of the finalists at that Disney Muppet casting call a few years ago, how was that?

      GABRIEL:   Great! Just about everyone selected was already involved with the Muppets in some way.
      Martin Baker and Debbie McClellan assured us that no Muppeteer was going to lose their job over this. All of us that were selected had a great concern about that.We wanted to see what door would open for us, without affecting the employment of the established stars. And management was true to their word.

      I was so happy to have Jane Henson and Heather Henson involved with us down at Disney World too. Jane and Heather held meetings and video briefings for us on the history of the Muppets.

      KEVIN:   Who auditioned for what roles?

      GABRIEL:   Some of us could do more than one voice. Others could only do one. If I recall correctly; Artie Esposito, myself, John Kennedy, and Drew Massey auditioned to understudy for Kermit. Auditioning for Fozzie Bear was me, Victor Yerrid, and David Stephens. Miss Piggy was Michael Lisa and Tony Whitten. And only Brett O’Quinn auditioned for Gonzo. Totally amazing as Gonzo and perfect as Bunsen Honeydew as well! Nice bunch of guys all around! The Disney staff was really sweet with us all week too.

      Somehow I think the whole Disney Muppet understudy scenario was already a dead issue by the time we got down there since Chris Curtin had departed from running the Muppets. I think the money was already allocated for the project and executives just went through the motions to finish what was started. Just my guess, I have no proof of that.

      Two years ago, Sesame had a similar casting situation. Kevin Clash and Marty Robinson had a Monday-Thursday Sesame Street workshop class for at least 40 people that Jane Henson, Heather Henson, and Carol Lynn Parente would attend. At the end of the week, Friday was a special day, only a select few, about five people (some of the same guys that were with me at Disney World, except Yerrid and Massey) were with me auditioning to be the understudy for Bert and Ernie. This audition included Mark Gale and Andy Hayward.

      Looking at the monitor and seeing Bert and Ernie move on the screen and knowing that it’s YOU operating one of them boggles the mind! That was amazing. After a rehearsal scene, Jane Henson politely pointed out to Kevin Clash that she thought I wasn’t being “dull enough” as Bert. I told them my adrenaline is pumping performing Bert, but I would work on being “dull.” That is pretty hilarious when you think about it, accused of not being dull enough!

      I felt great knowing I performed "Doin the Pigeon" for Jane Henson and Kevin Clash while performing Bert. That’s a nice memory. They have it someplace on video. I was also sent scripts and sheet music to audition to be the understudy to Grover. I practiced hard for that. But when I met with Clash he said he had already selected someone I have never heard of to understudy Grover. Hey, no fair! I didn’t get my chance! My Grover rocks!

      In a nutshell, no actual understudy Muppeteer job offers came anybody's way.

      KEVIN:   How do Muppeteers like Eric Jacobson or Steve Whitmire feel about understudy performers?

      GABRIEL:   No idea. All the core Muppeteers are secure in their jobs. I met Eric during Elmo's Christmas Countdown and we spoke for a while and I enjoyed my time with him. Nice fellow.

      That's all for part one of our interview with Gabriel Velez. We'll be back with much, much more from Gabriel! Special thanks to our good friend Kevin Williams and our new friend Gabriel Velez!

      Gabriel with Fozzie on the set of The Muppets Take Manhattan








      The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

      Dec 27, 2010

      Jason Segel STILL Talking About The Muppets

      Happy day after day after Christmas, Muppet fans! For some of you, it's back to work! For me... it's back to posting on The Muppet Mindset. Today we have links to two more interviews with Jason Segel--both off which were provided to us by Brian Knatchbull.

      In the first interview, with PopEater.com, Jason reveals his favorite Muppet and his childhood relationship with puppets. His story sounds like a lot of Muppet fans I know--writing puppet film scripts in your early teens, still having 10 or 15 puppets lying around your living room today? Awesome. I love his advice about revealing your obsession to girls. He is a wise man indeed!

      In the second interview, with USA Today, the talk mainly focuses on how amazing Jason thinks it is to be working on this movie (and, let's face it, it is amazing). Gonzo, Sam Eagle, and Rowlf are all mentioned, and he talks about Brett MacKenzie writing the songs. Based on this interview, it's incredibly easy to see why Jason is excited for this movie--and why you should be too!

      Sorry we don't have anything more exciting for you today, Muppet fans. But tomorrow you can expect to see another exciting, exclusive interview right here on The Muppet Mindset (and no, it's not an interview with Jason Segel)!








      The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

      Dec 25, 2010

      Merry Christmas from The Muppet Mindset!

      From all of us, to all of you
      And all of ours to all of yours
      Your friends from The Muppet Mindset
      Wish you a very Merry Christmas
      And a joyous holiday season.

      Keep Christmas with you
      All through the year.
      When Christmas is over,
      Save some Christmas cheer.
      These precious moments,
      Hold them very dear.
      And keep Christmas with you
      All through the year.








      The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

      Dec 24, 2010

      Christmas Eve on Sesame Street Review

      Christmas Eve on Sesame Street: Through the Eyes of a Younger Generation

      Joseph Scarbrough - For the past several years, one of my favorite things to do during the holidays is pop a VHS into the VCR, and enjoy one of my all-time favorite Christmas specials, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

      I was born in 1989. Twenty years after the premiere of Sesame Street; although I’m fortunate enough to have grown up during what is considered the tail-end of the classic/old school era (before 1993), I never really saw any true old school Sesame for quite some time. As a matter of fact, when I was a baby, in addition to television episodes of the time, the oldest I had seen of the show was the My Sesame Street Home Video series from the mid and late 80s... that is until a long-distant friend of mine sent me a wonderful present for Christmas 2002--a VHS of the 1978 special Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

      The special opens with the Sesame Street gang (of that time) enjoying an ice skating party at the skating rink, and it’s an interesting opening to say the least, as we get a rare glimpse of various Muppet characters, such as Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster, and Count von Count in full-bodied appearances, with skaters in full-bodied costumes of the characters. Admittedly, half of the time, I do tend to fast-forward through the opening, but there is one part that I’m particularly fond of, when a young girl wants Big Bird to skate with her, but he appears to be nervous about falling down--to see this little girl saddened at Big Bird not wanting to skate, but very happy that he did skate with her after all is a reminder that you just don’t see such genuine emotion from the young visitors on the show anymore.

      After an accident playing Snap the Whip, Oscar (in his can) tumbles down flights of stairs, through walls, and out the main entrance. Big Bird and his little friend Patty come to his aid; Big Bird is glad Oscar is okay, because he wants everyone to be happy on Christmas Eve, that is until Oscar hits a sour note with him: “How’s a guy like Santa Claus, whose built like a dump truck, gonna get down all those skinny chimneys?” Neither Big Bird, nor Patty, are sure as to just how Santa does it, but they are determined to find out, otherwise, Oscar tells them, no one will get any presents for Christmas. The gang starts heading for home, singing a touching song that describes the wonder of the season, "True Blue Miracle." When I grew up, after 1992, Sesame Street always looked so clean and bright and colorful, but here, the street seemed so dirty and grungy, as if Oscar was in charge of sanitation, but that was before I learned the true intentions of the street setting, and now when I look, I see the realism of a lived-in inner-city street... and, of course, the set does look truly beautiful covered in snow.

      Next, we see the Muppet icon himself, Kermit the Frog, waiting for Big Bird and Patty in his nest area, where the two relay the discouraging news about Santa to him; Kermit ponders on the subject himself, and decides that those who could answer that question best are those who understand Santa more than anyone: kids. So, Kermit goes to round up some of the neighborhood kids and ask how they think Santa leaves presents for everyone, though he already gets one answer from Patty: "I’m a kid, and I don’t know." Back in those days, it was easy to take Kermit’s appearances on the Street for granted--Jim was alive, still had legal ownership of the Muppets, and as such, Kermit could make crossover appearances in whatever show he was involved in; just seeing Kermit in this special, during these days when Disney is in control of the Muppets, is such a big plus.

      While Kermit and Grover embark on asking kids faces about how they think Santa is able to get into people’s houses, Bob returns to his apartment to rehearse the classic Sesame Christmas song with a group of the neighborhood kids: "Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year)," not realizing the surprise that awaits him. Before Bob arrived, Linda had dropped by and was teaching the kids how to sign the lyrics to the song, as her Christmas present to Bob--proving that sometimes the best gifts aren’t materialistic at all. The first version I heard of this song was from Elmo Saves Christmas, even though it has a more upbeat and catchy sound to it, this version has a much more mellow, soothing sound, like what carolers would sing around a warm fire; I have to say, I do like both versions very much.

      Next comes my favorite moment in the special: Mr. Hooper. When I grew up, I only heard the name Hooper whenever referring to the famous store, I don’t think I ever even made the connection to the portrait on Big Bird’s wall to the man behind the store. I only learned about Mr. Hooper during a special aired on A&E in 2001 about the history and behind-the-scenes moments of the show. At last, I was meeting the street’s grandfather figure for the first time, and, needless to say, the moment was both heartbreaking and heartwarming, as both Ernie and Bert had decided that they were running out of time to buy each other a present... and out of money as well. Ernie had decided to get Bert an empty cigar box, as a practical gift for him to keep his paper clip collection in, but was short on cash, so he proposed a trade with Mr. Hooper--his beloved Rubber Duckie for the cigar box. When Bert stepped into the store afterward, he decided to get Ernie a pink soap dish to keep Rubber Duckie in, and also being short on money, offered Mr. Hooper his paper clip collection in exchange for Ernie’s present. Mr. Hooper asked both Ernie and Bert if they were sure they wanted to do this, and they both said they were. Such a wonderful scene, I think it illustrates Bert and Ernie’s true friendship more than anything that they’re both willing to give up their most prized possession to get a present for one another for Christmas, no matter how much it hurts.

      There is much more Muppety fun throughout, including Grover's role-playing with a young boy named Billy. Grover pretends to be Santa trapped in Billy’s house, and asks for his help in how to get out. This leads up to a funny scene with Cookie Monster writing a letter to Santa, but as he tries to decide what kind of cookies he wants Santa to bring him, he eats his pencil without realizing it. Classic Cookie! Back with Kermit, Big Bird, and Patty, Kermit goes over the list of answers kids had given him as to how Santa gets down the chimneys. None of the answers satisfy Big Bird, who’s growing even more restless to find out how Santa gets down the chimneys. Meanwhile, Cookie Monster tries writing to Santa again, as Cookie wonders what kind of cookies Santa would bring him, his appetite gets the better of him again, until finally, he devours the entire typewriter. Even funnier than the previous scene.

      Next came a scene where Big Bird conducts an experiment: Snuffy represents Santa, while one of Big Bird’s oil barrels is a chimney, and the experiment is that Snuffy will step into the barrel and will show how Santa gets down a chimney. So Snuffy ascends a makeshift staircase of wooden crates, and steps into the barrel, before facing a problem... Santa doesn’t have more than two feet, so Big Bird suggests that Snuffy pretend Santa’s bringing one of his reindeer down with him. Snuffy squeezes all four of his legs into the barrel, and it seems as if Big Bird may have finally solved the problem, until Snuffy presents a new one... can they explain how Santa gets OUT of the chimney?

      The sun sets, and Oscar watches his cheerful neighbors embark on visits to friends to deliver Christmas presents, including a moment that would probably have been forced on today’s show: Bob wishing Mr. Hooper a happy Hanukkah. A simple gesture like that is fine for 1978, but today they probably would have to do an entire subplot or so addressing Hanukkah, even though it’s not a bad idea. The cheerfulness around the street is enough to make Oscar sick, so sick, in fact, that he expresses his disdain for Christmas in song – "I Hate Christmas." He strolls around the street showing it too, by giving presents full of sludge, taking presents back from others, ripping the EL out of NOEL, etc. In fact, when it’s over is when he cheers, he’s glad it’s only once a year, he hates Christmas. Boy, Oscar could give the Grinch a run for his money.

      Bert and Ernie get ready for bed, but they’re so excited about their presents, they decide to go ahead and open them on Christmas Eve; Bert opens his cigar box and is thrilled to have it... until Ernie mentions that he got it for him to keep his paper clips in. When Ernie asks to see Bert put his paper clips in, Bert changes the subject by suggesting Ernie open his present; Ernie opens his soap dish and is thrilled until Bert tells him he got it for Rubber Duckie. Just when Bert asks to see how Rubber Ducky looks in it, they receive a visit from Mr. Hooper, a rare moment to see a human on a puppet set. Mr. Hooper drops by to give Bert and Ernie presents for Christmas, but when they open their presents, they find that Mr. Hooper has given them the paper clip collection and Rubber Duckie back. Bert and Ernie are so happy with their presents, but then realize that this isn’t a very fair exchange, because they didn’t get anything for Mr. Hooper, until he tells them that just seeing that they got exactly what they wanted for Christmas is the best present he could ever have. Mr. Hooper wishes them a merry Christmas, and leaves, while a touched Bert and Ernie sing a version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." This is perhaps my favorite moment out of the entire special, and it’s moments like these where you realize who your friends really are.

      Just when Cookie couldn’t get any funnier, he decides since Christmas Eve is too late to mail a letter to Santa, and tries to call him instead, that is until while thinking about cupcakes, Cookie ends up eating the receiver... just as his call to Santa goes through. "Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho! Hello?" echoes from a befuddled Cookie’s tummy. "Gee, maybe me better send telegram." As the night wears on, and the snow begins to fall, Big Bird is more disheartened than ever about Santa. Big Bird is on the verge of tears at the thought of nobody getting any presents, until he finally figures how he can find out how Santa gets down skinny chimneys. Inside Gordon and Susan’s apartment, Gordon hangs stockings, while Cookie tells him about his failure at trying to contact Santa, but Gordon assures him that Santa knows all about him, and knows exactly what to bring him for Christmas, but that it would be a nice idea for him to leave something in return; Cookie thinks it’s a terrific idea, and tries to decide between a necktie, or shaving cream, until Gordon tells him what people usually leave him... cookies. Cookie’s reaction? Priceless! Just when you thought things couldn’t get any funnier for the shaggy blue monster!

      Gordon answers the door, after he hears a soft tapping, and finds a worried Patty telling him that Big Bird is gone, so Gordon and Susan start a search party. At that moment, Big Bird ascends to the roof of 123, where Bert’s pigeons coo and tell him that Santa hasn’t been by yet: Big Bird has decided he’s going to stay up on the roof until Santa arrives, and see, firsthand, how he gets down skinny chimneys. Down on the ground, Gordon and Susan tell others about Big Bird’s disappearance, and soon, everyone is running around looking for him, much to his confusion. Big Bird figures he could go down and help look for someone who may be lost, but figures it’s more important that he sticks around and see Santa. The rest of the gang continue searching for Big Bird, while he dozes off on the roof. When he is fast asleep, and half-buried in snow, the shadow of a large figure slowly approaches him. When Big Bird opens his eyes, he sees no one there, and figures he must have had a wild dream. He then decides to step down to Gordon and Susan’s to warm up for a moment; just as Gordon and Susan return home. They are relieved, but frustrated when Big Bird comes down from the roof and tells them that he was waiting for Santa. They soon discover that everything in the apartment has been decorated, presents are under the tree, and the stockings are full... Santa did indeed make it down the chimney. Big Bird is happy, but disappointed that he still doesn’t know how Santa does it; Gordon asks why Big Bird he needs to know so much and tells him that’s not what’s important... what’s important is that after losing him and being very worried about him, they got him back safe and sound, and that they’re all together for Christmas. "And if that isn’t a true blue miracle, I don’t know what is." Oscar joins them, and tells Big Bird he’s glad he’s back, because he wants to ask him something... "How does the Easter Bunny hide all those eggs in one night?"

      The special ends with Big Bird stepping out onto the street, to the relief of the other residents, happy to see he’s back, while a reprise of "Keep Christmas With You (All Through the Year)" is sung. As everyone goes home for the night, and Big Bird and Patty enjoy the giant Christmas tree in the middle of the arbor, Gordon and Susan come home to find that Cookie Monster has eaten their tree: "Scotch Pine delicious, but Douglas Fir give me heartburn!"

      This is such a great special, unlike many of the holidays specials of today, this one not only had a very structured and solid storyline, it was also neither overly political correct, or even overly educational. It’s also a favorite among a lot of the cast and crew as well; "I thought it was the best of what we’d become," Roscoe Orman said in Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street, "Jon Stone wrote, directed, and produced it, an incredible vision. It was a wonderful tribute to the spirit of what we’d created."










      The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier