Penguin Cheerleaders Added To Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl

Animal Planet airs its 10th Puppy Bowl Sunday. The show and its kitten halftime program have attracted millions of viewers in recent years. The Puppy Bowl will have some extra star power this year.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, maybe you don't like football and you need a distraction on Sunday. There are food commercials - as we just heard about, or just the food. Maybe you just want to change the channel and watch Puppy Bowl. That's today's last word in business. It's Animal Planet's version of the Super Bowl and its marking its 10-year anniversary.

NPR's Lauren Migaki is directing our program this morning. She also reports and has this preview of this year's big game, which has the traditional kitten halftime show and penguin cheerleaders.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE AND DOGS BARKING)

LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: There's only one human in the Puppy Bowl, ref Dan Schachner.

DAN SCHACHNER: Its puppies, 12 to 15 at a time, on a field - on a miniaturized field - playing football. And essentially that means every puppy kind of has to drag a chew toy into end zone and that scores a touchdown.

MIGAKI: The players can be penalized for paws interference or excessive cuteness, or a delay of game penalty for when nature calls on the field - which happens a lot.

Executive producer Melinda Toporoff says it all started as a one-off in the Animal Planet programming department.

MELINDA TOPOROFF: You know, what the heck are we going to put up against Super Bowl? And someone said, well, how about just a bunch of puppies on a field. And I don't think anyone at the time realized what a pile of gold they were stepping into.

MIGAKI: Nowadays, the Puppy Bowl requires several days of footage and a crew of 75, plus 66 puppies to film a game that play will over and over on Super Bowl Sunday.

TOPOROFF: And often I will have a player on my lap in the control room.

MIGAKI: The draw is in watching cute animals act like humans, says Bob Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University.

BOB THOMPSON: We've always loved to see pigs talk in movies and we've loved paintings of dogs playing poker, so I suppose dogs playing football was one of the inevitable results of an advanced civilization.

MIGAKI: More than 12 million viewers tuned in over the course of the 12 hour broadcast last year.

THOMPSON: To put it in perspective, when "Mad Men" was young and getting all of those Emmy's and on the cover of magazines and so forth, "Mad Men" was lucky to get two million.

MIGAKI: This year, other networks are hoping to cash in. The Hallmark Channel is hosting "The Kitten Bowl" while Nat Geo Wild has "The Fish Bowl." It's exactly what it sounds like.

Again, ref Dan Schachner.

SCHACHNER: Gives new meaning to the term copycat.

MIGAKI: But the Puppy Bowl has some extra star power this Sunday - The Obama dogs, Sunny and Bo, will kick off festivities with a little help from their human first lady.

Lauren Migaki, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And that is the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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