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Obama dogs join fun pooch game in 10th ‘Puppy Bowl’

The dogs playing field — having fun — during Puppy Bowl X. | Damian Strohmeyer/Animal Planet

The dogs playing on the field — and having fun — during Puppy Bowl X. | Damian Strohmeyer/Animal Planet

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Updated: March 3, 2014 5:17PM



NEW YORK — It’s a far cry from MetLife Stadium, if not in distance, then in size. In October, a building on Manhattan’s West Side was the doghouse for 60 rescue pups, taking turns in a 10x19-foot mini-stadium, as a referee towered over them.

The 10th annual Puppy Bowl (2 p.m. Sunday) is Animal Planet’s signature event that basks in the festive glow of the Super Bowl. This year it welcomes First Lady Michelle Obama and her Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Bo, as they help “train” the puppy players.

But the three-day shoot starts with kittens, stars of the “halftime” show. Day 2 brings puppies from rescue groups, which later found adoptive homes. And the final day involves penguins, this year’s cheerleading squad.

The game is filmed with precision: 21 cameras capture the action, including one mounted under a glass bowl (to catch slurping tongues). In all, 100 hours of footage is edited into a two-hour show, repeated through the night. The shoot is quiet, save for occasional yelping (by dogs) or coaxing (by handlers). Commentary is added later.

What’s the appeal? Check the views for YouTube pet videos.

“Just the sheer delight of looking at these little fluff balls,” says executive producer Melinda Toporoff.

On this day, a husky-shepherd mix nuzzles a Great Pyrenees pup as a dachshund gnaws on a treat. And a chihuahua-terrier mix refuses to budge as he’s coaxed onto the field. Referee Dan Schachner calls fouls: excessive butt sniffing, taunting. And cameras stop rolling as the field is cleaned of “poopage” on the 10-yard line.

This is big business for Animal Planet. “As the Super Bowl is to network TV, the Puppy Bowl is to Animal Planet,” says Marjorie Kaplan, the network’s president, as it’s evolved into a brand-defining event. Ratings have grown (last year’s drew an average of 2.6 million viewers for its first telecast, with a total of more than 12 million when all-day repeats are factored in).

“It’s amazing, when you think of it, of its humble beginnings as our version of the yule log,” Kaplan says. So amazing that its rivals are Hallmark Channel’s Kitten Bowl, Nat Geo Wild’s Fish Bowl and Destination America’s Toilet Bowl, a marathon of bathroom-renovation series “King of Thrones.”

Kaplan says she’s not threatened by the copycats. “You’ve got to be kitten us,” she says. “We’ve been around a long time. Ours is fun at a whole other level.”

Gannett News Service



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