Interviews – “Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock” Showrunners, Executive Producers, and Even Fraggles

Now that The Jim Henson Company’s excellent reboot Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock has premiered on Apple TV+, I’m thrilled to reveal that I recently had the wonderful opportunity to speak with some of the creative talent behind the already-acclaimed series… not to mention a couple of the Fraggles themselves.

First up, I spoke with Wembley and Mokey Fraggle about their fashion choices, their adventures in Fraggle Rock, their friends Gobo, Boober, and Red, and their thoughts on other characters like the all-knowing Trash Heap and the villainous, giant Gorgs.

Watch Wembley and Mokey Fraggle Interview for "Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock on Apple TV+:

Mike Celestino, Laughing Place:  I love your sense of style. How would you describe the look that you’re wearing right now?

Mokey Fraggle:  Oh my gosh… it’s a little flutterly, a little floaty. I mean, how about this necklace, huh? I love wearing these charms. Sometimes I find these trinkets and tokens, and each one of them has meaning for me. But you know what? The banana shirt of Wembley’s? What a fashion statement. Am I right?

LP:  I absolutely love Wembley’s shirt. Wembley, what does it mean when your friends say you’re “wembling”?

Wembley Fraggle:  Oh dear… well, sometimes I have a hard time making up my mind.

Mokey:  But sometimes you don’t.

Wembley:  It’s normal… it just happens to me a lot. I can’t make a decision…

Mokey:  But sometimes you can. Oh… I’m helping, aren’t I? I’m helping you wemble.

Wembley:  I don’t need to wemble right now, Mokey!

LP:  Mokey, how are things down in Fraggle Rock. What sort of adventures have you guys been up to lately?

Mokey:  So many adventures. For instance, Gobo heard about this Cave of Solitude from Uncle Traveling Matt, and so he had to go and explore it! But we didn’t want him to go by himself, so we went with him. And then we found this amazing thing that affected us all: water! Just so much water, and now our Fraggle pond is full. You’ll hear all about it really soon.

LP:  I’m looking forward to it.

Wembley:  I don’t know if Mokey illustrated just how much water, okay?

Mokey:  Mm-hmm… a lot of water.

LP:  Wembley, how would you describe your other Fraggle friends– Gobo, Boober, and Red?

Wembley:  Gobo… brave leader, Red… extremely athletic and a little intense, Boober… well, he tends to worry but he’s really good at keeping things nice and tidy, keeping our bellies full with all kinds of delicious treats…

Mokey:  …Our clothing wrinkle-free…

Wembley:  Yeah, I mean look at my shirt… literally no wrinkles.

Mokey:  Thank you, Boober!

Wembley:  Those are the kinds of things that come to mind when I think about my friends.

LP:  Mokey, Can you tell me a little bit about this Trash Heap I’ve been hearing so much about? What is your relationship with that being?

Mokey:  Oh, the Trash Heap [echoes]. She’s an icon. That’s what I call her. I call her ‘The Iconic Trash Heap’ [echoes again]. She’s our oracle. She has such wisdom. She’s really the one who knows all. [looks around] Sometimes I invent problems just so I can go talk to her. Don’t tell anyone I said that. That’s just between you and me.

LP:  I won’t tell anyone.

Mokey:  Oh good.

Wembley:  Well well well! Didn’t know that.

Mokey:  Oops.

LP:  Wembley, what about the Gorgs? What problem do they have with the Fraggles? What’s up with those guys?

Wembley:  I don’t know what’s up with them. They just have it out for us! Every time we’re up there, they’re either trying to squash us or stick us in a cage. Oh man, I’d really like to get through to them, wouldn’t you, Mokey?

Mokey:  I certainly would. You know, I’m all about connection but I don’t know about connecting with the Gorgs. Gobo thinks it’s a possibility, but I’m just not so sure.

Wembley:  Yeah, I don’t know what the secret is. I have hope, though. I have hope. We’re gonna have a breakthrough.

Mokey:  How can you be friends with someone who wants to squash you, or imprison you for life? I don’t know. But I’m sure there’s a way. There’s got to be a way. Common ground… we will find it! That’s the key.

LP:  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you guys. Thank you so much!

Wembley:  Take care, Michael Fraggle!

Mokey:  Thank you, bye-bye!

Next I spoke with Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock Executive Producers and Showrunners Matt Fusfeld and Alex Cuthbertson about the lessons in each episode, how they approached writing the reboot, and what they brought to the series from their previous experience.

Watch "Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock" interview with Showrunners Matt Fusfeld and Alex Cuthbertson:

Mike Celestino, Laughing Place:  I noticed that the lessons seem to be especially relevant to modern audiences in this version of Fraggle Rock. How important was that to the creative team and how did you go about implementing them into the show?

Alex Cuthbertson:  The lessons that the Fraggles learned were super central to the series. I mean, the original show had a really sincere intent and purpose behind it. Jim Henson was very on-his-sleeve about the fact that he wanted this show to end war and promote world peace. So we felt like we had inherent permission to be really lofty with the goals. Obviously the big, overriding theme for the entire series is interconnectedness– that we’re all in this together, that our actions have consequences, and that we have the ability to have impact on one another, both positively and negatively.

And then because of the spirit of play and joy in the show, we’re allowed to get into some lessons that don’t feel like we’re hitting you over the head with it, or teaching. But in this season the Fraggles are sincerely learning about consent, about echo chambers and confirmation bias, about hero worship, about the environment. I think the show, because it exists on its own plane, actually gets to delve into these things at kind of a metaphoric level that [doesn't] feel so heavy-handed.

LP:  How much effort was put into making sure this iteration of the show didn’t repeat too much, story-wise, from what had come before in Fraggle Rock? How else did the writing staff make this reboot feel fresh?

Matt Fusfeld:  It was a tricky line to walk, where we’re reintroducing the show to new audiences, but also it’s for the O.G. fans too. John Tartaglia, who was in the writers’ room with us and he puppeteers Gobo and he’s [an] executive producer– he’s the ultimate walking Fraggle encyclopedia. He was always like, ‘Ah, no… they did that in episode 3-4.’ And we also had one of the writers from the original series– Jocelyn Stevenson– there, and so it was a little bit of cherry-picking what we thought could be hit again in a fun, new way. And there were other things that were just sacred, that we didn’t want to touch at all, like we didn’t bring back [the character of] Cantus, because that was Jim Henson’s character. We don’t need to bring him back. We honor that. So it was definitely a tightrope act.

Cuthbertson:  But like with everything else with this show, I don’t think there were hard-and-fast rules. It always came back to sort of an ‘essence check.’ ‘Does this feel like the soul of Fraggle Rock?’ Even if it’s something that they may have done in the original, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we couldn’t touch it. It was just like, ‘Do we have our own way of retelling that and making it feel fresh?’

LP:  I saw that you guys started off on Community, which is another of my favorite shows, so I have to ask if Dan Harmon’s ‘Story Circle’ applies to Fraggle Rock. Are you guys utilizing that in the writing room?

Cuthbertson:  [laughs] The Story Circle applies to every aspect of life. I think the more you look around, it’s everywhere. Absolutely. I mean, that was such a cool way to just understand story and [the Hero’s] Journey, and I think once that gets in your head, it’s hard to get it out, for sure.

Fusfeld:  That still comes up often. That Story Circle is a good tool, for sure.

LP:  Lastly, we get to spend a little more time with the Doozers in this version of the show. What was your approach to writing for those characters and their relationship with the Fraggles?

Cuthbertson:  It’s such an important part of the interconnectedness that we were talking about. They exist on polar opposite ends of the spectrum, in a certain way, but over the course of the season they also come to realize how important they are to one another. I think it’s a great way to show [the concept of] bridging an understanding, and also just different ways that we walk through this world– that there isn’t one particular way, and the more we get to know each other, the better we can be collectively.

Lastly, I chatted with The Jim Henson Company’s President of Television Halle Stanford, who also acts as an executive producer on Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock.

Watch "Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock" Halle Stanford (Jim Henson Company Television President) Interview:

Mike Celestino, Laughing Place:  I’m so excited for this show and I’m so impressed with what you guys have put together, but the first thing that jumped out at me watching the first episode was the visuals. It’s just incredibly gorgeous, and I was wondering if you could tell me how your team achieved the look of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock?

Halle Stanford:  So many things go into it– you even think about the puppets. The puppets are a big piece of it, and so obviously inspired by the original Fraggle Rock, but also needing to ‘plus’ it, to create this entire epic world… even the Doozers. Luckily, we have the technology of everything from 3D printing to a lot of lessons learned over the years to be able to give us the bigger-scope puppet world, and incredible performers to bring the world alive. We’re so lucky that we had a partner in Apple to be able to help us reach that big scope. Our art team with [Production Designer] Tyler Harron [was] extraordinary [in] just imagining the world. One of my favorite moments when we were interviewing production designers was when Tyler said, ‘I’ve done a lot of caves.’ I’m like, ‘You’re in! We have a lot of caves we need to do.’ [laughs]

But also Gavin Smith, our director of photography– just the beautiful photography and the colors that he brought to the world, and the lighting. Because we wanted it to feel lighter. We wanted to feel like there’s big scope in this world, so it was a lot of planning to get that look. And then also the directors. We went after directors who were all varied [in their experience]. Some came from a comedy background, some came from a big adventure / visual effects background, some came from a kids’ [entertainment] background. I think that this combination of directors also brought very unique visual storytelling to the series that plussed the visuals that you liked on the show, and I’m so glad that you liked it.

LP:  Oh yeah, it’s so beautiful. You mentioned the cast in there as well. Obviously you’ve got returning favorites like Dave Goelz and Karen Prell joining the new cast members, but can you tell me what this current group of performers brings to the energy of Fraggle Rock?

Stanford:  It was the most fun set. I wish I could just pull back a curtain and show everybody the love and the fun that this cast had being the ‘Fraggle Five.’ It was extraordinary– so funny and fun. We opened up auditions for Mokey and Wembley, but Johnny Tartaglia… he was always gonna be Gobo. There’s a picture of Johnny when he was a little boy puppeteering Gobo. It’s what inspired him to become a puppeteer, it’s what inspired me to become a producer, and so Johnny and I together– when we went out pitching the show– he pitched it as Gobo. Let me tell you: the Fraggles pitched this show, and sold it. So Johnny was automatically Gobo, and we think he did an extraordinary job.

Donna Kimball is a master puppeteer, and she has a beautiful singing voice, and I think she’s very Mokey. She came in with the right energy and the right craft. And then Jordan Lockhart, who I had worked with in Canada on a show called Hi Opie!, has such a hilarious sensibility and an open heart. [He] came in as Wembley, which was hard– to come in as ‘the new guy…’ and he and Johnny were brothers from day one. So it’s just a beautiful cast, and they all can sing. That was very important, too– that we had singing puppeteers, so that we could really rock the music in Fraggle Rock.

LP:  Why is now the right time for a Fraggle Rock revival?

Stanford:  Because the world needs Fraggles right now. I think the universe has conspired to bring back Fraggle Rock for all of us right now. It’s been a tough couple of years, right? I think we need a lot of hope, I think we need a lot of fun, I think we need joy, and I think we all want to be a part of making the world a better place. And so being a part of something like Fraggle Rock and getting inspired and entertained at the same time– that’s why Fraggle Rock needs to come back right now.

Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock is now available to stream in its entirety, exclusively on Apple TV+.