When Animal Planet first introduced particulars for its 2021 Puppy Bowl, it began the dialogue with, “We want puppies now greater than ever.” After a yr that included varied ranges of stay-at-home orders amid a worldwide pandemic, the shutdown of productions and the postponement or cancellation of main dwell occasions — from concert events to sports activities — cries for social justice and police reform, and an especially contentious presidential election, more true phrases could have by no means been written.
Producing the annual Tremendous Bowl counterprogramming occasion didn’t come with out changes, although — not solely to ensure this yr’s was “greater, higher, extra dramatic” than ever earlier than, says Animal Planet’s government vp of manufacturing, Erin Wanner, but in addition to maintain the trainers, shelter representatives, celebrities and crew secure amid the continuing pandemic. Maybe serendipitously, a few of the adjustments that COVID required ended up elevating the bar for the standard and amount of content material the Puppy Bowl may ship.
Traditionally, the Puppy Bowl has been filmed on a soundstage in New York Metropolis, with cameras solely following the puppies and their “sport” over the course of at some point. This yr, manufacturing moved to a stadium in Glens Falls, N.Y., and passed off over a number of days in October 2020. Whereas the transfer to such a bigger area was initially “so we may socially distance with our crew,” Wanner says, it offered the chance to make the set greater, lean into the sector type of real-life sports activities and embrace a “stadium-within-the-stadium impact with risers within the background,” and use a drone to seize extra motion footage.
Whereas the scale and scope of the puppies’ taking part in discipline grew this yr, the variety of gamers really shrunk. “We had solely 22 shelters [involved] this yr,” Wanner says. “They had been in a position to deliver 70 puppies, which was nice, however we often have extra like 100.”
Wanner notes that they often “satisfaction ourselves on working with as many shelters yearly as potential. We do background-check each shelter to make it possible for they’re following all relevant state and native legal guidelines, and have the fitting well being necessities and all of that, however aside from that, anyone who’s a reliable canine rescuer and needs to take part and assist us discover nice puppies to play within the sport, all people’s welcome.” Nevertheless, this yr, well being and security pointers required them to restrict the shelters’ involvement to these inside driving distance. “Some folks drove 10 hours,” she recollects, however that also meant primarily working with East Coast-based teams similar to Charlie’s Crusaders Pet Rescue, Danbury Animal Welfare Society and Operation Paws for Houses.
Figuring out that they’d have fewer puppies in play for the occasion didn’t change the casting course of, although. As in previous years, they nonetheless relied on images and descriptions of the puppies previous to the shoot, on the lookout for “a spread of breeds and the way they appear, and [both] small and large” puppies, in addition to these with a 123 of exercise ranges. They get sorted into Crew Ruff and Crew Fluff based mostly on the identical components, with the purpose of making a stability so there may be not one group stacked with “ringers,” Wanner says. It was not till the puppies arrived on the stadium that producers and coach Victoria Schade actually noticed how they’d interact with one another to find out the correct mix to play collectively.
“It’s an iterative course of as we’re capturing,” Wanner says. “We sit there and wait. Oftentimes if a bunch of puppies isn’t performing or doing a ton of fascinating stuff, we’ll swap them out and provides them a break. [Victoria] works with us for the entire shoot and she or he’ll go up there and squeak some toys round to attempt to get them to leap round. So we do some issues to attempt to get the power going, however now we have to attend to seize the canine doing what they do.”
Wanner nonetheless contends that capturing a canine sleeping or alone in a nook can present simply as enjoyable content material as watching one really rating targets, and Puppy Bowl succeeds when it contains all of these issues. And this yr, there may be additionally concentrate on some puppies on the sidelines of the sport: “This yr our cheerleaders are additionally puppies,” Wanner previews. Victoria “was on set with them, attempting to get them to leap round and dance round in tutus.”
Given the quantity of motion — and adorableness — these puppies present, Wanner doesn’t assume will probably be noticeable that there are fewer than there have been in years previous. However apart from the puppies as the primary attraction, there are additionally extra human expertise taking part within the Puppy Bowl than ever earlier than. Dan Schachner is again for his tenth time as Puppy Bowl “rufferee”; actor Kristen Bell participates on this yr’s Pup Shut and Private segments, which “go deeper on a few of the canine that we function on the sector,” Wanner explains; ESPN’s Steve Levy and SportsCenter’s Sage Steele be part of to supply evaluation all through the sport; and Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart are internet hosting.
“There are such a lot of celebrities who’re organically [in] and captivated with adoption and rescue. We predict having people concerned who actually love canine is a plus,” Wanner says. “Having hosts this yr is one thing model new as a result of we determined it was time to experiment, [but] we love their banter and the truth that they’re gently aggressive with each other. The idea is that they’re watching together with the viewers and commenting on how their group is doing.”
Though puppies should not inclined to COVID, their handlers are, so the behind-the-scenes on the Puppy Bowl was much less of an occasion this yr than prior to now, when members of the press would come, as would community purchasers and sponsors. The one individuals who had been allowed to carry and pet the puppies, to sluggish the unfold of any germs, had been the handlers, Wanner says, which was tough — no pun supposed — for lots of the manufacturing workers who simply wished to cuddle an cute pet. (However for the report, she additionally says they examined all people 48 hours previous to manufacturing after which once more after they arrived to make sure everybody on set was COVID-negative.)
Regardless of having to sacrifice some private time with the puppies, Wanner admits that she needs to make use of manufacturing components from this yr’s Puppy Bowl as a brand new template for the long run. Most notably, she says, “I will likely be shocked, really, if we return to capturing on a soundstage.”
This yr’s occasion can also be three hours in size, and meaning extra time “on the sector, with the puppies, actually leaning into the story of the sport,” Wanner says. “Each soccer sport is a narrative, and also you’re sitting on the sting of your seat ready to see the way it’s going to finish, and when it was two hours, I really feel like we weren’t with the puppies lengthy sufficient as a result of there have been so many different issues we wished to do. This yr we had been in a position to dig in a little bit bit extra.”
Moreover, shining a light-weight on the significance of adopting and rescuing animals of every kind, however particularly canine, is an integral a part of the Puppy Bowl.
“For the primary time ever, on the finish of each act and as a option to work with a few of the shelters who couldn’t come to Puppy Bowl this yr, we’re going to profile puppies which can be adoptable proper now. We ship them to our web site in the event that they’re taken with adopting that individual pet,” Wanner says.
The 2021 Puppy Bowl airs Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. on Animal Planet and likewise streams on Discovery Plus.