I had the wonderful opportunity a few days ago to be part of an Earth to Ned Zoom roundtable with Executive Producers Brian Henson, Vince Raisa, Joseph Freed and Allison Berkley, along with other sites. Earth to Ned is a fantastic new Disney+ series from the Jim Henson Company.
All photos provided by Disney+
First, from Disney+ about Earth to Ned:
From the Jim Henson Company comes a late-night talk show hosted by alien commander Ned and his lieutenant Cornelius, who call off the invasion of Earth after they fall in love with human culture. Broadcasting from the bridge of their spaceship, hidden deep underground, Ned and Cornelius interview Earth’s greatest resource, celebrities. With the help of the ship’s artificial intelligence, BETI, and the destructive CLODs (Cloned Living Organisms of Destruction), Ned must keep his show a secret from his home planet or suffer the wrath of his father, the Admiral of the Galactic Fleet.
We spent almost an hour and a half on the call and I will be focusing on the three questions I asked in this post. That said, I want to mention that even if there is a full second season of Earth to Ned, it won’t be too soon due to the way the puppeteers work closely. So definitely savor the season, there are many wonderful episodes.
I asked the producers how the concept of Earth to Ned came about. Brian Henson answered, “Well, it was Joe and Allison, and Vince and I – we all did Creature Shop Challenge together.” It was on the SyFy channel. Henson said that they had “such a ball doing it” and that it had a large fan following. At that time, they thought “There’s no way we’re not making another season”. Henson says they spoke too soon, and “In the end, we didn’t make a second season because SyFy sort of ran out of money and they needed to reduce all their budgets”.
Freed and Berkley came up with an idea of an aftershow hosted by a creature. Freed said, “When Creature Shop ultimately never went to a second season, we never let go of the idea.” Henson continued, “We loved it! It was always Ned, which has never happened to me where our lead character always keeps his name all the way to production. Right from the very beginning”. Henson says that they tried to call the show Ned Talks, and that the show had been in development for years. Henson continues, “But the TED Talks people weren’t happy about it, they were like, ‘No, that isn’t going to happen'”.
Henson expressed that Dan Silver from Disney+ wanted it to be an unscripted show that felt “like a recognizable format” but “done in a way that totally turns it on its head”. So it looks like a late night talk show but is also like “nobody has done before”. Henson considers that really smart, since he might have tried to make the show too crazy.
I asked how they decided on the guests for the season. They include Taye Diggs, Kristen Schaal, and Billy Dee Williams. Berkley said they made up a wish list for the show. “Joe and I have done a lot of talk shows. We met at Rachael Ray, the daytime show. We’ve certainly been in that position a lot where the guest becomes a very big part of how fun the show can be or how weird the show can be.” They came up with the wish list and did some test shooting, sent them around to agencies and “got incredible guests that really wanted to come play on the show and improvise”. It is a different type of talk show in that the puppeteers have to stop every 8-10 minutes, so the guests have to sit for a little longer. She calls it a “great playing ground” and that the guests had a terrific time.
Henson added, “It’s almost impossible to book a talk show where you can’t show people the host (to laughter). They don’t know the host, they can’t see the host on some other TV show, it’s really hard.” He said some potential guests would wait for season 2, when they could see what the show is. “In a lot of ways that really helped us, because it meant we got the people who were really up for something that was almost unknown to them. It meant that they were very courageous and just up for it – not worried about embarrassing themselves or anything like that”.
I asked last about how the character Cornelius came about. I accidentally had watched episode 10 (the Musical Episode) first, and thought his creating a song was very sweet. Cornelius really has a lot of heart. Henson said, “Well…thank you. We kind of knew…a week before shooting, that likely Cornelius would be actually the most lovable.” Henson said that they were realizing that Ned while enthusiastic, was also “narcissistic, greedy and ungenerous” to Cornelius. “The more he was doing that, the more entertaining it was but it also meant…really, that Cornelius is going to pull the heartstrings.”
Henson added, “In terms of how we do him, he’s a more traditional approach (as opposed to Ned, who has six puppeteers controlling him). It’s basically like a Muppet. It’s a hand puppet, with a hand – and then another puppeteer doing the eyes. It’s Michael (Oosterom), the puppeteer – he’s really good, he’s very courageous as a performer.” Henson said that Oosterom isn’t himself a vulnerable person, so it tugs on the heartstrings that much more when he does give vulnerability to Cornelius.
All ten episodes of Earth to Ned are now on Disney+ and I highly recommend watching! I find it an addictive show – and even if I don’t know who a guest is, I enjoy watching the banter. Episode one isn’t my favorite of the ten shows, but it sets the premise up and there are just some wonderful, funny and moving moments through all the episodes.
I appreciate being part of the interview roundtable, it was fun to get to learn more about this unique show.