Best in Show

From action packed reality series to dramas and dogumentaries, no matter where you are in the world, you can usually find on a terrier on TV.

“Dogs are a schedule’s best friend,” says Paul Heaney of, managing director, Cineflix International, dog-related programming. His company distributes dog based shows including RSPCA Animal Rescue, Animals at Work and Pet Police.

While, pan-regional pay TV broadcasters including Animal Planet and Nat Geo Wild, unsurprisingly, air a raft of dog series, these shows aren’t only fare for cable and satellite networks, but often broadcast on free-to-air channels. They are a perfect way to segue from a female-skewed daytime schedule to a male-skewed evening schedule, according to Bo Stehmeier, head of sales at European distributor Off The Fence.

He says: “Dog shows are becoming a phenomenon; we see more and more dog shows, it’s a nice niche genre. It’s co-viewing and you also don’t have to contextualise dogs,” he adds.

Off The Fence is selling series including 10x22mins America’s Cutest Puppies, which is produced by Kaos Entertainment for WEtv, Unleashed: A Dogumentary, produced by Tangent Entertainment and airing on Sky in the UK and Discovery in Germany and Japan, and Designing Dogs, a one-off doc for the Smithsonian Network in the United States.

Dogs definitely travel and international broadcasters have no qualms airing American animals, but equally canines from other countries also do well. Outright Distribution’s UK-originated format It’s Me or the Dog, which was produced by Shed-owned Ricochet, has sold to Australia’s Network Ten, Prime in New Zealand, TV2 Denmark and Animal Planet in the States.

Discovery-owned cable network Animal Planet relies heavily on canine content and currently airs series including Dogs 101, Last Chance Highway and Puppy Bowl. Andy Weissberg, VP, programme planning and scheduling, says that shows about man’s best friend rate better than any other animal.

The broadcaster is looking to move from being a purely factual channel and sees dogs as a part of this transition. “We’re trying to become an entertainment network and we want to entertain with docusoaps like Pitbulls and Parolees and Pit Boss,” he adds.

Pit Boss follows Shorty Rossi, who owns a pitbull rescue centre as well as a management company that represents midget actors and it has just been renewed for a second season. Pitbulls and Parolees, which is produced by 44 Blue Productions and Rive Gauche Television, follows Tia Maria Torres and her pitbull rescue centre staffed by ex-convicts.

Meanwhile, Nat Geo takes a more scientific approach to canines. The distribution arm of the factual broadcaster – Nat Geo Television International – has sold Science of Dogs, a one-off documentary produced by Jackie Mow to a raft of international broadcasters including Germany’s ZDF, France 5, Japan’s NHK and Italy’s Rai. It has also inked deals for its 3x52mins series Dogtown, which looks at an animal sanctuary in Southern Utah canyon country, with Spain’s La Sexta, Greece’s Skai and Russia’s Channel One.

Dog series are popular for producers, distributors and broadcasters because they are often cheap to produce, repeat regularly and are very advertising friendly, a veritable holy trinity for TV execs.

“They are very ad friendly because they are often close to products and the slots are easily sponsored. The emotional payoff means that the repeats play out really well and dogs don’t wear out of date shoulder pads,” says Off The Fence’s Stehmeier.

“Dog shows are very ad friendly because they’re very safe and we generate quite a lot of revenue from them,” adds Animal Planet’s Weissberg.

Despite this dog dominance, Weissberg thinks that dogs’ mortal enemies cats are catching up. The channel has commissioned US production company Powderhouse to develop Dogs vs. Cats. Weissberg says that this is down to feline’s outlaw style. “Some of the cat shows have outperformed dogs because cats don’t always do what you want or what you expect,” he says.

However, Stehmeier disagrees. “Dogs work much better than cats. The Cat Whisperer would be really dull.

The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan is the most successful dog-based series around the world. The series premiered on Nat Geo in 2004 and has since been sold to broadcasters around the world including Australia’s Nine, and pay platforms including the UK’s Sky and Latin America’s Animal Planet.

Millan told TBI: “There are dogs in every country. Even though cultural attitudes may be different, the show’s popularity shows how much people love dogs. The show has been successful in some unexpected places like Sweden, Norway and Spain.”

Six seasons of the show have been produced including a number of one-off two-hour specials that looked at some of the world’s worst behaved dogs and Millan’s tactics for improving their temperament.

Jon Kramer, chief executive and chairman of Rive Gauche International, which distributes the show, says that the show is about more than just the dogs. “The show is all about the universal appeal of Cesar helping people. I think it’s about him rather than the dogs,” he says.

“People are thirsty for hope,” Millan says. “They want to know how to relate to someone else, to feel connected to the world and because sometimes it becomes problematic to relate to other humans, people go to man’s best friend instead.”

The show has also been shot in Australia and the UK and there are plans to shot more episodes internationally. “There are plans to do more in other countries, we’re just not sure exactly where yet,” Millan says.

The possibility of launching local formats of the show internationally has also been discussed. “Cesar has been able to transcend cultural boundaries. We’re still busy in the States but we wouldn’t rule out doing local versions internationally,” adds Kramer.

There is also scope for Millan-based spin offs. “There are dogs all over the world and I’m interested in how different people and cultures behave with their dogs. It’s not a concrete idea just yet, but it’s something that I’m thinking about,” he adds.