Magazine article The New Yorker

Puppies!

Magazine article The New Yorker

Puppies!

Article excerpt

Each year, executives at every television network except one face the same dilemma: what to air during the Super Bowl? Before 2005, Animal Planet usually punted, airing nature documentaries that no one was expected to watch. But Melinda Toporoff, an executive producer, wanted to compete. "I was inspired by the Yule log," she said. "Something you can just stare at and surrender to." Her version was the Puppy Bowl.

Toporoff was onto something. Next Sunday, almost nine million viewers--the same number as have clicked on "My Dog Can Talk!" on YouTube--will tune in to Puppy Bowl IX. For every ten Americans who want to watch large men concuss one another, there is one who wants to surrender to cuteness. Beyonce may be singing on CBS, but the Animal Planet halftime show features a kitten scrimmage, with hedgehog cheerleaders dressed in tutus.

Unlike the Super Bowl, the Puppy Bowl is not live; it was filmed at a studio in the West Fifties in November. Dan Schachner, the actor who plays the referee, looks like a thin Jimmy Kimmel. He is not tall, but, wading through an ankle-deep scrum of puppies, he looked like a giant. He wore a jersey with black-and-white vertical stripes, pants tucked into kneesocks, and a whistle around his neck. "That's a penalty!" he said, picking up a dun-colored terrier mix by the scruff. "Biting the retriever. Keep your snout to yourself, buddy."

"Dan, can we try that again?" a voice from the control room said. "The pup looks freaked out."

Take two. "Perfect, Dan." Schachner released the terrier and climbed down from the wood-and-Astroturf set, which looked like a gridiron-themed pet-store window and smelled like a pet-store carpet. "If you were to call a foul every time they relieved themselves, you'd never get anything done," Schachner said. "You've got to pick your battles."

The Puppy Bowl is not a game of strategy. Players are let loose, ten at a time, on a three-by-six-yard "field" strewn with chew toys. Though the puppies don't know it, their objective is to drag one of the chew toys into either end zone. There are no teams and no uniforms, and everyone is a running back. If two players are in contact with a toy when it crosses the goal line, Schachner awards a double touchdown. …

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