June 15, 2024

Interview: ‘Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock’ Producers John Tartaglia, Halle Stanford & Matt Fusfeld

(This interview was first posted on our sister website, Awards Radar)

Dance your cares away, because the Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock is returning for its second season! The AppleTV+ reboot of the classic Jim Henson Company series is coming off of a wildly successful first season, winning Outstanding Art Direction at the 1st Children’s and Family Emmy Awards, and receiving three additional nominations for Best Children’s or Family Viewing Series, Outstanding Cinematography and Outstanding Editing, not to mention a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

According to Halle Stanford, President of Television at The Jim Henson Company, the second season gave the team an opportunity to expand on the Fraggle mythos. “I think what we wanted to do for Season 2 was just explore new places in Fraggle Rock,” said Stanford. “So, just pushing ourselves to take the Fraggles into new caves. We discover a group of lost Fraggles, so we’re gonna dig deep into that. We have our Emmy-award winning art department of Ian Nothnagel, Brentan Harron, and Tyler Bishop Harron, who really delivered and gave us something really beautiful and new to look at. We really leaned into this production to make it more epic, but we’re still just having fun with the Fraggles.”

Executive Producer and writer Matt Fusfeld looked to the first season as a starting point for the show’s sophomore season. “From the writer’s perspective, we really thought about what worked last year,” said Fusfeld.  “We also really liked the idea of telling this overarching story that acted as a metaphor about climate change and food insecurity told through the radishes disappearing and the wind storms. We took the opportunity to lean into more of the silly moments where you’re learning about something potentially scary, but you’re also having fun and hearing great songs at the same time.”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

Unlike the original series, which were stand-alone episodes, Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock has a season-long story written into the narrative, which Creative Supervisor John Tartaglia said is due to the diverse audience of the show. “The amazing thing about ‘Fraggle Rock’ is that it has always appealed to so many different age groups, said Tartaglia. “Even the original series was never made for children. It was really something that was accessible to families. No matter what age group you were, there was something there for you. I think that’s the magic of Jim Henson and his brand and his legacy. Whenever you watch anything Jim Henson created, it’s something everyone can watch. I have very strong memories of being seven years old and watching ‘Fraggle Rock’ for the first time, discovering it with my parents watching, and my grandmother watching, and my three-year-old cousin watching. Everyone was enjoying it, and that really struck me; that you can make something that appeals to so many different levels at once.”

“That’s why our storytelling needs to be more advanced, because first of all, I think what kids are going through in today’s world is so much more difficult than they were in the eighties. But I also think the way we consume television is different now. We’re used to storytelling that leads from episode to episode. In the original series, each episode stood alone, but with this version of it, we thought it was really important to tell a story that keeps going and has those overarching themes. It’s a fun challenge because you’re servicing so many different characters. I always joke on set that we’re like the ‘Downton Abbey’ of family television, because we have all these characters and all these different storylines, and somehow we’re able to hit all of them at once.”

Those storylines develop over a long period of time, with six months being spent in the writer’s room. “We spend the first couple of weeks thinking about like the overarching story and what themes are really important to us that we want to get out there,” said Fusfeld. “This year it was climate change and food insecurity. We do take that for 20 weeks or so with the writers and kind of kick around that larger idea and how we want it to spread out across the 13 episodes, but then we talk a lot about what specific issues we want to talk about in each individual episode.”

“That’s all done ahead of time,” adds John Tartaglia. “That’s, that’s about six months before we’re physically in production. And then we go up to Calgary, our home in Canada, and we’re there for about another six months. If you add in Doc and Sprocket and you add in the traveling Matt component to them, it’s about a week per episode, which is rare in family television to get that much time. When you visit the set, its three giant sound stages. You walk into Fraggle Rock, so it’s, it takes a long time to shoot. But, we’re also so dedicated to making sure it looks as high quality as possible. So we, we spend a lot of time on it. Everything’s real. All the water is s real. We spend a lot of time there.”

Prior to his time with “Fraggle Rock,” Fusfeld worked as a producer on shows such as”Community” and “New Girl,” so he found there was a bit of a learning curve working in the world of puppetry. “Puppets can’t do a lot,” said Fusfeld. “[Producer] Alex [Cuthbertson] and I started in animation, where you could do literally anything, and even working with live actors, they can do most things. But puppets are very limited. However, it’s also such a an incredible opportunity too because it forces you to focus on the character that these brilliant puppeteers are creating with the most seemingly simple things. It’s actually really complicated just focusing on character in comedy. We wrote for “New Girl,” and that’s a very ‘hangouty’ show and a lot of times, that was a model of, ‘Well these Fraggles are just hanging out in a cave, right? Let’s just have fun with them and their characters interacting.’”

“And then of course, this was the first really family show that we wrote on. So, I suppose tonally that requires a little bit of an adjustment. But it’s all been kind of just a great learning experience, and oddly more meaningful than so much before it because this is the first thing that I’ve written on that I watch with my kids. I’m very proud of it and they enjoy it and we enjoy it together, and that’s the best gift in the world.”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

For Tartaglia, who also performs (as characters such as Gobo and Sprocket), writes, and directs, working on “Fraggle Rock” has been a full circle moment. “When I saw “Fraggle Rock” when I was seven-years-old, I remember thinking, ‘I want to do that,’” said Tartaglia. “I grew up in a showbiz family. I was always performing, but puppetry was not something I thought about. But then I saw the original “Fraggle Rock” and actually the very first character I saw on screen was Gobo and I just remember instantly being like, ‘I want to do that.’ And then people would ask me growing up, they’d say, ‘Well, what’s your dream job? What do you want to do?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t exist anymore.’ And they’d say, ‘What do you mean?’ I was like, ‘Well, it would have been to work on Fraggle Rock, but it’s done. It’s never going to happen.’” If you had told me thirty something years later, I’d be sitting here, playing Gobo and being the Creative Supervisor for “Fraggle Rock,” I would have thought you were crazy. So, it is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done.”

Stanford, who has had a hand in bringing to the world such Jim Henson Company projects as “Muppet Treasure Island,” “Muppets Tonight,” Farscape,” “Bear in the Big Blue House,” “Sid the Science Kid,” and “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance,” has found producing “Fraggle Rock: Back to The Rock,” as equally as gratifying. “Little Halle loved Jim Henson,” said Stanford. “I loved ‘The Muppets.’ I loved ‘Sesame Street’. ‘I am a ‘Sesame Street’ baby. I was born in 1969, so I grew up with Jim Henson, and when I was twelve, in those tween years, that was ‘Fraggle Rock’ for me. It was magical. It was fantasy. It was a world I wanted to escape to, and I got to every time I turned on the TV and watched it. The thing about ‘Fraggle Rock’ is that it’s so transformative. It has such heartfelt messaging, it has fantasy, it has humor funny, it has wonderful characters. But it’s that transformative feeling of after you watching it, wanting to be a better person and go save the world. So, to grow up and work for The Jim Henson Company has actually fostered all these magical possibilities. Being able to bring that magic again to kids and families is just extraordinary.”

Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock Season two will premiere globally on Friday, March 29 on Apple TV+.

You can watch our full interview with John Tartaglia, Halle Stanford & Matt Fusfeld below.

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