TV Maven: "Puppy Bowl IV": Animal Planet's Paw Up on Super Bowl Sunday

By Elaine Liner Elaine Liner Archives

 
At my house we look forward to Super Bowl Sunday all year. The family hunkers down in front of the Sony to share guacamole and chips, and to revel in the annual viewing of… Puppy Bowl!
 
This was the fourth year for Animal Planet’s all-pup gridiron show on the cable channel, starting at 3 p.m. ET Sunday (with repeats following and online highlights available). It was the first year the three-hour telecast was in high-def. And it was the first time the proceedings began with the National Anthem, all puppies sitting obediently at attention.
 
Among the stars of this year’s “game” were Rascal, a border collie mix; Mrs. Roper, a Lab-retriever mix; Bruin, an Alaskan malamute; and our favorite, Maiisey, a blue-eyed Aussie shepherd. Drawing more than 22,000 votes in an online poll during the show, the “Most Valuable Pup” was Jackson, a feisty white West Highland Terrier who ran circles around the competition.
 
The sheer whimsy of the Puppy Bowl is the secret of its appeal. The concept is ridiculously simple: A bunch of cute puppies romp eight at a time in an enclosed “stadium.” They tug on squeaky chew toys, wag their tails, bite each other’s ears, sniff each other’s nether regions and generally have the time of their baby-dog lives. If one gets a little over-excited, the human “ref” (an Animal Planet employee) comes in and imposes a “puppy timeout.” He occasionally has to remove a player from the game for unnecessary roughness and he often has to call “personal foul” and clean up a little accident here or there (nice time to show off the Oust odor remover—it’s one of the sponsors).
 
Harry Kalas, voice of NFL game films, provides the play-by-play. “We’ve only just begun and the action is fierce!” he said at the top of this year’s show. A typical call has him following a puppy with a rubber ball in its jaws down the field, across the goal line for a puppy touchdown, then back the other way for a TD on the opposing end. Rules and players go unleashed here.
 
The production team doesn’t do much in the way of creative editing or “storytelling” with Puppy Bowl. As Kevin Mohs, vice president for production at Animal Planet, told the Washington Post recently, “Puppies are so darned cute that we decided to just let their natural cuteness shine through.”
 
Each year, Puppy Bowl gets a little more popular with football-skipping fans. It is now the most-watched non-Super Bowl program on TV, drawing more than 7 million viewers (many of whom tune in and out). The three previous Puppy Bowls are available on DVD.
 
Filmed over two days in a studio in the Washington, D.C., area, Puppy Bowl’s participants are chosen from nearby animal shelters (a few are borrowed from private owners, too). An animal handler, a veterinarian and a rep from the American Humane Society oversee production.
 
Throughout the program, info flashes onscreen letting viewers know how to adopt shelter pups through Petfinder.com. There’s also a plug for felines with the Bissell Kitty Half-Time Show, a hilarious stretch of footage of fluffy kittens gamboling over an elaborate scratching station. At the end of half-time, a confetti cannon blows bits of colored paper all over the little field, scaring most of the kitties out of at least one of their nine lives.
 
Back to the puppies and the gimmicks that make Puppy Bowl so darn funny. There’s an overhead camera, instant replay and slo-mo. The “water bowl cam” catches the doggies as they lap up some refreshment…or accidentally tumble into the bowl on a big play. Puppies often lick the camera lens.
 
Until somebody smart launches the Puppy Channel (or the Dallas Cowboys get back to the Super Bowl), we’ll keep marking the calendar for the annual viewing of the Puppy Bowl, a show that has a fuzzy paw up on the competition.
 
 
 
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