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Puppies, puppies everywhere. With the eighth annual Puppy Bowl set to kick off on Sunday (Animal Planet, 3 p.m. ET), the little mutts have been as ubiquitous on the media rounds as some of the big dogs in the NFL.
This week they were taped running around the Wall Street Journal offices (no newspapers were defaced), played a makeshift game on "The Today Show" prompting Matt Lauer to call a "roughing the pisser" penalty, and piled on the laps of chefs Tom Colicchio and Carla Hall in Andy Cohen's "Watch What Happens Live" clubhouse, where the drinking word of the night was, you guessed it, puppies. That meant 25 shots for those playing along at home.
But with 9.2 million viewers last year, the Bowl has become serious business, which means working the talent as hard as -- well -- dogs to promote it. As for the game itself, it was filmed in New York over three days in October, but much like child labor laws, there are also puppy regulations and a representative from the Humane Society was on hand to ensure they played for only 20 minutes at a time to prevent exhaustion.
And the pups aren't the only animals working it. New this year is a cockatoo named Meep (yes, as in Road Runner's Meep, Meep!) who will be tweeting live during the game under @MeepTheBird.
The chicken cheerleaders from last year are also out in favor of a piglet pep squad whose mission was to "ham it up" on the sidelines. While all the animals featured are adoptable, the pep pigs come with a disclaimer that they must be used for actual pets and not bacon -- or be loaned out for Geico commercials to scream wheeeeeeeeeee!
As for additions of the human variety, entertainment reporter and animal activist Jill Rappaport provides puppy play-by-play, and there's also a new rookie referee to handle fouls of every variety.
Ref Dan Schachner, also the announcer for "The Nate Berkus Show," admitted to some guilt based favoritism on the job.
"The biggest challenge is not stepping on a puppy," Schachner said. "The stage is a lot smaller than it looks on television (10-by-19 feet), so I've gotten some tails and feet and then I feel really bad later and don't want to penalize the ones I've stepped on. It's quite controversial."
So while this isn't Tim Donaghy type dealings here, Schachner also says he's loose when it comes to which end zone the puppies run their chew toys into for a touchdown.
"We're forgiving here," Schachner said. "And we have more touchdowns this year than any other season and everyone likes to see a score."
We'll drink to that. And if you're reading this Cohen's clubhouse style, puppies were mentioned nine times. Mazel!
Melinda Toporoff is the executive producer of the Puppy Bowl for Animal Planet. That means she also produces the Puppy Bowl's kitten-centric halftime segment. As a bunch of handlers were getting ready to bring the kittens onto the set, Toporoff sat down to discuss kittens with Page 2.
So what's new for the kitten halftime show this year?
Well, one thing that's new is that I got a kitten this year. I don't know if I should be confessing this, but I'm more of a dog lover. I was never that into cats, because I'm allergic.
Not into cats, and yet you're running the kitten halftime show -- scandalous!
I know, right? But my son is in love with kittens, so we got one, sort of as trial run, to see if I sneezed. And I didn't, so we kept her, and now she's the love of my life.
What's her name?
Trixie. Trixie the cat. So I have a whole new love and appreciation for cats.
Hmm, and has that changed the way you're approaching the kitten halftime show this year? Like, up until now have you just been enduring the kittens, instead of embracing them?
I probably shouldn't admit this, but yeah. This year, though, I'm really looking forward to it!
That's good to hear. So when you guys are choosing which kittens will appear in the halftime segment, what are you looking for? What makes a good kitten participant?
Fluff. Fluffiness. The more fluff, the better. Also cuteness, friskiness. And, of course, kittens that need homes. That's what this is all about. Are you looking to adopt one?
I already have two cats.
Are they nice to you?
I work at home, so they're both spoiled rotten, but we all like it that way.
I was shocked at how affectionate and loving our little cat is.
Because you thought cats were aloof and all that?
I had a terrible stereotype about them. I admit it.
It's always good to admit when you have a problem. But I'm glad you've gotten over it!
Paul Lukas is a Page 2 columnist. Don't tell his cats, but he almost lost his heart to this little scamp in the kitten green room. Lisa Altobelli is an editor with espnW.
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