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Puppy Bowl V
A new team takes the field.

We can hardly wait for that hallowed winter Sunday when, along with millions of other Americans, we crowd around our television and cheer as our favorites run, tackle and tumble toward a hard-won touchdown. During a break in the action, we may also flip the channel to the Super Bowl.

Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl trotted onto the Discovery Channel’s Super Bowl Sunday lineup in 2004, offering three action-packed hours of outrageously adorable puppies frolicking on a miniature football field. Though it was originally added to the day’s broadcast schedule just for fun, it has become a record-setter.

“The idea was supposed to be ‘Who’s going to watch anything but the big game?’” says Melinda Toporoff, executive producer for Animal Planet. “It almost started as a joke, like the Yule log on your TV screen. But it’s turned into a cult hit.”

Last year, more than 8 million people tuned in, making Puppy Bowl IV the highest rated program in its series and Animal Planet’s top-rated adult-viewed telecast of the year. It’s hard to resist a screen full of lovable pups cavorting in a 10-by-19-foot stadium constructed in the studios of the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet’s parent company, in Silver Spring,Md. So what if they occasionally drop the ball—or any of the dozens of toys that litter the field? So what if they occasionally cause a foul —isn’t that what the referee and his cleaning products are for? And when the players need a nap, cue the Bissell Kitty Half-Time Show and its stage full of cuddly kittens beneath disco lights.

“We wanted to play up the whole concept of the spectacle that is the Super Bowl,” explains Rob Burk, executive producer for Discovery Studios. That includes drafting all types of athletes.

One of the few facts Toporoff and Burk would divulge about the monumental Puppy Bowl V, to be broadcast Sunday, February 1, is that all players will be from shelters in the Washington, D.C., area (many of the previous bowls’ contestants were from private homes). Adoptions, which have been encouraged throughout the series, will be a major theme this year.

Staffers worked with Petfinder.com to reach out to the shelter community for likely prospects. Forty-one puppies made the cut and packed the locker room (a production facility conference space) for the two-day filming early last October. As usual, humane association and shelter personnel were present.

“We kept them well fed and hydrated,” Toporoff said of the team members. “We want them to rest, but they’re pups and love to play.” And when they do, each move is narrated by Harry Kalas, famed broadcaster for the NFL and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The game is over too soon, but is frequently rebroadcast to the delight of fans, some of whom hold Puppy Bowl parties and blog about the experience. And who, this year more than ever, might be inspired to visit a shelter to find their own most valuable players.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 52: Jan/Feb 2009
Susan Strempek Shea's eighth book, Sundays in America, tells of a year of Sundays she spent worshipping at Protestant churches nationwide. suzannestrempekshea.com

© Discovery Communications, LLC

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