NEW YORK >> There’s a frog in a lot of throats across the country as news has circulated that Kermit the Frog is getting a new voice.
ABC News and The Hollywood Reporter report that Steve Whitmire has left his role giving life to the iconic green Muppet. Whitmire has voiced and made the character move since Muppets creator Jim Henson’s death in 1990.
A Muppets Studio spokeswoman told the outlets that longtime Muppets performer Matt Vogel will be taking over the role. Vogel has voiced such characters as Big Bird, Robin the Frog and The Count.
Joe Hennes, the co-owner, senior contributor and editor of ToughPigs.com, a website for Muppet fans, said the reaction among fans has been cautiously optimistic.
“They’re obviously sad about the news but they’re excited to see what’s going to happen. There’s a much larger sense of optimism about what’s coming up next for the Muppets,” he said.
Representatives for Disney, which owns Muppets Studio, didn’t return a request for comment today about the motivation behind the move. The Muppets have been putting out short weekly YouTube videos called “Thought of the Week ” and Hennes said the new Kermit will likely debut there next week.
In addition to Kermit, Whitmire had voiced grumpy critic Statler, Rizzo the Rat, the always-startled Beaker and other characters for the Muppets.
“For a lot of adults, Steve’s Kermit is the Kermit they grew up with,” Hennes said. “Although we see the voice being changed again or the baton is being passed once again, for a lot of people this is kind of the first time in their lives they’re aware of this happening to the character.”
Children’s TV shows have survived changes in key cast members before, most notably when Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash resigned from “Sesame Street” in 2012 amid allegations that he sexually abused underage boys. Elmo is now performed by Ryan Dillon.
Kermit made his debut in a 1955 television comedy called “Sam and Friends,” which aired locally in Washington, D.C., but he looked more lizardlike back then. Kermit was fashioned from an old coat belonging to Henson’s mother and was named after one of Henson’s childhood friends.
Henson and his 2-foot-tall puppet joined “Sesame Street” in 1969. “The Muppet Show” followed in 1976 and ended its run in 1982.
Whitmire and Kermit were inseparable for years, with the two making TV appearances on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” ”30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” and in films like “Muppets Most Wanted” and “The Muppets” in 2011.
But Hennes points out that when Whitmire took over from Henson, many believed that the new Kermit simply sounded wrong. After 27 years, most fans have reconciled.
Vogel took over voicing the Count when “Sesame Street” regular Jerry Nelson died in 2012 and soon took over many of Nelson’s characters. Hennes called Vogel “one of the best puppeteers in the world.”
“We’re going to be getting a new voice for Kermit but what will be much more important will be that performance,” he said. “For a lot of the fans, it will be a little jarring to hear a different performer’s voice. But just like we did with Steve, we’ll get used to it because it will be such a professional performance.”