John Tartaglia is the first to admit that he’s a big fan of “Fraggle Rock.”
Like a really big fan.
The puppeteer was getting ready to go leave his Jim Henson Co. office to start working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak when he called the company’s president of television Halle Stanford.
“I had been keeping the Fraggles in my office and I called her and said, ‘Should I take the Fraggles home with me?’” Tartaglia tells Variety. “I know this sounds silly, but I just felt we should bring them home because I couldn’t stand the thought of these incredibly loved characters sitting alone in the office for so long.”
Little did anyone know that two weeks later, as the Henson team was brainstorming new projects that could address the pandemic, Stanford would receive a call to reboot the series.
“[Apple’s children’s creative development head Tara Sorensen] said, ‘What do you think about bringing back ‘Fraggle Rock’ in short form [on Apple TV Plus]?’” Stanford recalled. “I was like, ‘That is the greatest idea I have ever heard.’ Fraggles are about pure joy, they’re all about connection, they’re all about love and they’re so much fun.”
The beloved 1980s children’s puppet program was revived as “Fraggle Rock: Rock On!,” a series of six episodes that were five minutes each. Tartaglia wrote and produced all of the episodes. He also shot the series, using the puppets that were shipped to the puppeteers throughout the U.S., along with green screens, ring lights, $50 microphones and new iPhone 11s.
Music producer Harvey Mason Jr. revealed that he got quite emotional when he was asked to join the production.
“I grew up with ‘The Muppets’ and the Henson Co,” he said. “I know how much joy they’ve created and what they mean to people.”
The premise of the new season catches up with the Fraggles as they are social distancing and using video conferencing to communicate with each other and their celebrity guests, including Tiffany Haddish, Jason Mraz, Alanis Morissette, Common, Neil Patrick Harris and Ziggy Marley.
Each puppeteer shot their footage at home after a weekly read-through on Zoom.
To say that filming at home presented its own set of unique problems is an understatement. Just ask Karen Prell, who plays Red and is based just outside of Seattle.
“There’s a construction site that’s a block from my condo,” she said. “For the first few weeks of shooting, it was quiet because everything was on lockdown. But then the last weeks of working on these shorts, Washington lifted the restrictions on construction, which is awesome. But outside my window were generators, jackhammers, pile drivers and big trucks backing up — beep, beep, beep. I was kind of timing recording in between all of the construction.”
Frankie Cordero, who voices Wembley, was working inside a closet that he attempted to soundproof with foam rubber.
“We have two very loud cats and they love scratching foam rubber so outside the closet, I had cats meowing trying to get to the foam,” he said.
Donna Kimball headed to her building’s garage when she had to practice Mokey’s yodeling because she didn’t want to disturb her neighbors. “I rehearsed in my car with the engine running,” she said.
When Tartaglia had to shoot a water sequence, he didn’t realize that the many takes started leaking into the apartment below him.
“I saw my downstairs neighbor the next day and she was like, ‘Are you having problems with your fridge?’” he said. “I was like, ‘No, why?’ She said, ‘There was a little bit of water leaking from my ceiling.’” I was like, ‘That’s so weird.’ I may have sacrificed my relationship with my neighbor.”
Fortunately, all went smoothly with the A-list guests. “There was so much enthusiasm and pure love from them,” Stanford said. “Tiffany Haddish showed up wearing a red sweat suit and pigtails. She was like, ‘This is the Fraggle Nay-Nay.’”
Harris shot his scenes in his kitchen with a ring light on a ladder and a painting he hung in the background to help spruce things up.
“They’re all doing their own hair and makeup, sound, camera, doing lights and props,” said producer Tim O’Brien. “It was insane.”
Tartaglia insisted he doesn’t get star struck very often, but admitted his “15-year-old gay self was geeking out” while working with Morissette, who improvised bongo playing by using two halves of a watermelon she brought to the shoot.
While there’s no word on a second season, Tartaglia is already compiling his dream guest list.
“I am desperate to work with Céline Dion,” he said. “I feel like she is a Fraggle, so I need a Céline Dion and Fraggle mashup now!”
As for the possibility of finally getting a “Fraggle” movie — development news of a big screen adaptation pops up every few years — Stanford shared that “it’s still in development.”
“I think everyone is starting to feel the Fraggle love and we’re hoping that will inspire a lot more Fraggle,” she said. “Hopefully this will move things along.”
“Fraggle Rock: Rock On!” is available now on Apple TV Plus.