Puppy Bowl XIII: behind the scenes
- Simon Morris might have the best job on Earth: co-executive producer of Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl. He takes us behind the scenes to talk logistics (and treats), the editing process, paperwork for raccoon mascots and, most of all, adoption.
For a dog lover, there may not be a better job. Simon Morris is the co-executive producer of Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl. Now in its 13th year, the Puppy Bowl, which airs on Super Bowl Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, is a rollicking, furry alternative to the Big Game. SI spoke with Morris to talk about the process of putting the program together, the role it plays in adoption, why you haven't seen a raccoon mascot and how much peanut butter it takes to make the lick cam work. (The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
We have many relationships with shelters across the country. We start in June. One of the criteria is their age. We shoot in early October and we need them to be 12 weeks to around 20 weeks old. That’s a criterion for dogs that will be in that age range. We’re looking for a mix of rescue pups, and for a mix of sizes, from the super tiny ones to the super big ones. Most of them are mixed breeds and we try to get as wide a selection of breeds as possible. We also try to make sure we’re getting dogs from as many states as possible.
How do you get the puppies to New York?
The shelters are amazing. One of our shelter contacts, she drives a van up. This year she brought 10 pups. She brings her whole family and her kids are involved. We have a bunch of pups flying on planes. Either they come with a foster parent or the shelter staff.
How much dog food is there? What about supplies? Who handles cleanup?
We have about 15 pounds of dried dog food. We have 500 dog treats, 250 dog toys. We have over 80 ounces of peanut butter for the lick cam. And 1,600 wee-wee puppy pads. On the field, it’s one persons job to jump in very regularly to clean up, to do a pooper scooper moment. We don’t feature that on the final cut.
Is it hard to keep the puppies on task?
None of them are that trained. They’re so young, but you see their personalities come out. The dream is a dog that’s lively and loves all the toys. That’s it. There’s nothing we really can do. We have the humane association there at all times, a professional animal wrangler if we’re feeling like there’s a time where not much has happened. But you always get your magic moment.
How do you edit the program down?
It’s about 100 hours, between the three days of shooting. That’s why we shoot in October. Some of it is math: We have the two teams, and we’re keeping track of the touchdowns and field goals. But it’s pretty organic. We document the touchdowns in the order it happens. It’s not so much manipulation, it’s really just finding the best shots. A lot of the work is on the side characters. We have cheerleaders—this year we have rescue guinea pigs and bunnies. We have a new parrot tweeting. He’s on a tablet. For the first time, we have mascots. We had a chinchilla for Team Fluff and a screech owl for Team Ruff, so we’re integrating shots of them.
What happens to the puppies afterwards?
By the time the Puppy Bowl ends, most of them have found their forever homes. One of the things that led us to look at special needs pups is that they are harder to get homes for. Our special needs [like Winston, below] all have found homes. There is still one puppy that didn’t come onto the studio set; he’s called Francis, who is disabled from his back legs. He has still yet to find a forever home. We feature him. He has these wheels. We’re hoping that the results are that he might get adopted. He needs a home.
What reaction have you gotten from the animal welfare community?
They love it. They’ve been pleased to see that we’ve been amping up the adoption message in the last few years. We’ve made that message a bit clearer. We much more regularly throw to [the website] which has all our shelters. We’re making it a much clearer call to adopt. The shelters are overjoyed by that. We try to listen to them as well. They were saying they want to see more messaging for senior dogs. Last year we had a hall of fame section, giving the message of senior dog adoption.
Do you try to rope in some of the hard-core NFL fans?
We air at 3 o’clock, on purpose. We’re trying to tap into that general hype around the game. There’s a lot of NFL parallels. Just this week we shot an extra little thing of bands dressed in red and blue, for Falcons and Patriots. We try to give these nods to the NFL. We try to do a spin off in the world of cuteness.
What’s the greatest joy of doing it?
I do think seeing these pups find their home is kind of incredible. We’re meeting these pups in June, where they could’ve been very recently found or abandoned. On the shoot itself, we have crew and staff adopting these pups. We had six or seven adopted this year between the gaffer and a producer and our editor. Those personal stories are really beautiful. I go out on the shoots when we film these backstories. You’re seeing the pup’s life change and the human’s life change.
Is it pure fun to be working with puppies like this?
It totally is. Anything you say that’s a stress point, you feel silly saying it. My kids are little and they think it’s crazy that it’s my job to be filming dogs running around with toys. I get a kick out of it. The biggest stress, one of our mascots was going to be a raccoon. I love raccoons. We couldn’t get this rescue raccoon due to paperwork. If that’s the biggest stressor… [laughs]. It’s silly things like that.
What’s the biggest difficulty of putting on the show?
The editing is tricky, just sustaining interest over two hours. We’ve been digging more into the story. We go to the foster homes. That’s the biggest challenge, not just the fluffy cute part, but telling their story more and more. We have to make sure they have the right vaccinations. You do have to let go of control a lot more than on other shows I’ve worked on. But if you just accept it, you know you’re going to get great footage. The most magic moments happen when you plan nothing. With animals, it’s always like that.
What’s your favorite puppy bowl moment?
It’s a small moment in the show. We have a national anthem. We shoot the pups sitting and looking up. There’s a Shar-pei, she has the most comical face, with these big folds to her face, a blubbery nose. I’ve watched the show a lot of times, and I smile every time I see her face, looking patriotically at the flag, just because her face is so cute and funny.
Will you watch the Super Bowl or Puppy Bowl?
I’m definitely throwing a Puppy Bowl party. My kids are excited. My buddies are excited. I’ll stick to the Puppy Bowl.