Fraggle Rock: Back To The Rock Showrunners On Honoring Jim Henson's Legacy [Interview]

For people of a certain age, combining the words "Fraggle" and "Rock" together stirs a very certain nostalgic feeling. Jim Henson created an awful lot of memorable stuff in his years on this planet, but the funny little creatures we call Fraggles were certainly one of his most memorable. Now, Apple TV+ has stepped in to bring the beloved Muppets back to life in a new series titled (rather appropriately) "Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock."

Unfortunately, Henson is no longer with us, but it was Alex Cuthbertson and Matt Fusfeld, former writers on "American Dad," who were tasked with bringing the beloved show back in the streaming era, which is no small task. But they've done just that and, for my money based on the episodes I was lucky enough to see, they did a fine job of tackling a tough task. I recently had the good fortune of speaking with the duo on behalf of the show's release. We discussed their work on "American Dad," their relationship to Henson, a possible second season of the show, and more.

"'Fraggle Rock,' when we were kids, was sort of exclusive."

I've got to get this off my chest before we get into Fraggle talk, because if I'm to understand this correctly, you guys wrote for "American Dad," yes?

Alex Cuthbertson: We did.

Matt Fusfeld: Yeah.

Cuthbertson: Wrote for a while, yeah.

Okay. You guys wrote one of my single favorite episodes of television. "A Bully for Steve" is the most perfect half-hour of television, and I'm not even kidding. I literally wrote an entire piece about how I believe that that is one of the most perfect episodes of half-hour television of all time.

Fusfeld: Can you send that to us, please?

Cuthbertson: That's so nice. Stelio Kontos!

I could talk to you guys for an hour about that episode of television, but I had no idea until I started researching you guys. I just was like, "Oh my God, I've got to at least tell them how much this means to me."

Cuthbertson: That's so nice. I still remember working on that episode just because it was one of the ones where you can tell when the writer's room is into an episode and when they're having a lot of fun breaking the story, and that was a really fun one. Then, the artists had a great time drawing that episode.

Fusfeld: Also, because Seth McFarland was very busy with "Family Guy," so he didn't come down to "American Dad" that often. But for that one, he came down just to give a nugget of an idea, and it was something to the effect of his mom's bully, and that she had put a bat in her pants or something like that. So, it was always kind of a special one to him, too. Yeah. Thank you so much. We love that episode. "American Dad" was just a great, great time.

You guys, I was looking over the credits, you guys had some of the best episodes. "Cops and Roger" too.

Fusfeld: I don't think that was us.

I was just going off IMDB.

Cuthbertson: We were there. We worked on it, but I don't think ... we're not the credited writers for that, but we were definitely there for that and were a part of it.

Awesome. I don't want to spend the whole time on that.

Cuthbertson: We'll do that some other time.

Fusfeld: Yeah.

Yeah, totally. But anyway, you guys are getting into Henson's world here, in a pretty cool way. What was your relationship to Jim Henson's stuff growing up?

Cuthbertson: It's so funny, Matt and I both, I think, have the same Henson touchstone, which was "Muppets Take Manhattan." We were the perfect age for "Muppets Take Manhattan," which made me fall in love with the world of obviously the Muppets, but also New York City. I fell in love with New York because of that movie. They were always super important. I think that we both, coming up, we loved sketch comedy. We loved variety. Matt and I both had this real affinity for late-night and that kind of thing. I think the Muppets were this incredible creation that straddled all of those spaces. "Fraggle Rock," when we were kids, was sort of exclusive in the United States. It was exclusive for those that had HBO. We did not have HBO growing up. So, I came to "Fraggle Rock" much later.

Fusfeld: At first. We weren't some weird kids without, I mean, nobody had HBO until the '90s.

Cuthbertson: Right, right.

Fusfeld: The only people who had HBO in the early '80s were advanced.

Cuthbertson: Early adopters, for sure, which my family was not. But I started falling in love with "Fraggle Rock" in college. There's a station in Boston that just played amazing, curated reruns of obscure, awesome shows. "Fraggle Rock" was one of them. I fell in love with the world there. So, I think, Henson, at least, for me, has been this thing that's evolved from childhood up through adulthood. I think that's one of the coolest things about the Henson projects and the Henson universe, is that they really have so many different ways to get excited about what they do.

"We were never going to stray too far from what made it special."

I love the Muppets and Henson's stuff, but I've had this weird thing where I feel like in the last maybe 10 years or so, every time they try to do a Muppets thing, even when I think it's great, it doesn't seem to catch on, or any of the Henson stuff. How did you approach taking something so beloved and trying to make it work for the modern context?

Fusfeld: We were lucky that our partner in this, John Tartaglia, he was that kid with HBO. He's our fellow executive producer. He's the performer for Gobo and so many others, he's a puppet master, and he is a writer as well. He was really the essence checker of the show for us. There was a little bit of push and pull where we would be like, "Well, let's bring this up a little bit," and he would be like, "That's great," or "That's too far." He was the ultimate fan that we always had to bounce off of. I agree. When fans are passionate, it feels like there's no winning. So, there is a little bit of ultimately, "What do we think is funny?" You're not going to please everybody, so what do we like, what do we think is special about it?

Luckily, there was such a collaborative process to it, where there was Dave Goelz, who was the original Boober performing. He created Gonzo. Karen Prell, who was the original Red, was there. Everybody has such love for this project behind the scenes, as well. We were never going to stray too far from what made it special.

Cuthbertson: That's the thing. I think the soul of the show was such a beautiful thing to begin with. I think that it was such an easy thing to embrace and move forward with. I think it was never our goal to break out of what was working in the original, particularly at a spiritual soul level. I think we wanted to retain that at all costs. All of the new things we wanted to do were really just about taking what was great about the show, and then expanding. Some of that is even just physical, like the way the world is physically created, that set design lends itself to more tunnels, more caves, more adventure.

I think that that's what fueled us as writers, which was to take this incredible foundation and just go deeper with it. Then, of course, because of the platform, because of the amazing opportunity to be on Apple TV+, we could do a little bit more serialization as well since we're releasing the entire season at the same time. So, we could tell a bit of a longer story while still making sure each episode was self-contained with the beginning, middle, and end. We were able to do a little bit more as far as delivering a cinematic experience for the show.

"It would evolve and perhaps change to something completely different."

You've got your story for this season. Do you have stuff percolating for if you get to continue? Or did you view this as, "Let's throw everything at the wall because we don't know if we're going to get another shot"?

Fusfeld: Well, no. Just the way this business works, I feel like we could get a call at any time to be like, "What are you thinking for season 2?" So, I think that it is incumbent upon us to be ready with some nuggets of ideas. But then, I think what Alex was going to say is, it is such a collaborative process that we would come in with a season two idea, and then in the writer's room, talk it out and figure it out. It would evolve and perhaps change to something completely different. Is that what you were going to say?

Cuthbertson: Totally that, and then also what you're saying of throwing it all against the wall. We definitely didn't hold back in doing this season, but in breaking up these stories, what we kept coming back to is that there was more we wanted to do. There's more and more and more. So, even out of things that we didn't have the chance to do in season 1, there's already such an amazing starting place for season 2. What's so cool about this world is that there is a new world behind every cave, behind every tunnel. It did feel so exciting that there was this much that we could do in season one, yet it does feel also like we barely scratched the surface.

I've got to let you guys go in a second, but real quick, some of the best stuff that has ever surfaced on the internet is Muppets outtakes. Because the puppeteers always stay in character. Do you guys have any cool outtakes from the show that might ever surface?

Fusfeld: I hope so. Johnny Tartaglia and Donna Kimball playing Architect and Cotter Pin would always, always, between takes, have these ridiculous conversations in character, about just craft services and what was going on in Calgary. These performers, there's just such a passion and a love from them that translates. So, yeah, I hope so.

Cuthbertson: There was a pretty good gag reel that we showed just internally at wrap. I don't know if that would ever surface, but it's hysterical. These performers are really, really funny. Just like Matt said, when they're in character but talking about the just absurd goings on... It's so good. It's so weird and so funny. So, yeah, I hope so.

"Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock" is streaming now on Apple TV+.

Jim Henson's fun-loving, musical Fraggles are back! Join Gobo, Red, Wembley, Mokey, Boober, and new Fraggle friends on hilarious, epic adventures about the magic that happens when we celebrate and care for our interconnected world.