‘Pride’ has lions and tigers and pandas, oh my

Times Staff Writer

NBC has been promoting the new sitcom “Joey” so heavily I’m beginning to wonder if Joey’s got a swift boat in his past. The “Friends” spinoff has long been considered NBC’s greatest hope for a new hit sitcom, except then I heard that the network of Donald Trump and “Fear Factor” was doing a cartoon based on the Las Vegas institution Siegfried & Roy. I perked up: Finally, a show about real Americans.

And so at 9 tonight NBC trots out “Father of the Pride.” With more plot, it might have worked as a movie, like “Finding Nemo,” but I don’t see people staying with this as a continuing series. “Father of the Pride,” from DreamWorks Television, is about the exotic animals behind the Vegas kitsch act that is no longer, after Roy Horn was nearly mauled to death onstage last October by a 600-pound white tiger named Montecore.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Sept. 4, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 04, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Siegfried & Roy -- Articles in various sections of The Times have been in conflict about the weight of the tiger that mauled illusionist Roy Horn on Oct. 3. Times reports have given its weight as 300, 550 and 600 pounds. Siegfried & Roy’s publicist and Las Vegas animal control officials said the tiger weighed about 380 pounds.

Perhaps for this reason, the tigers in “Father of the Pride” aren’t center stage. The lions are, and the monkeys and the pandas and the squirrels; it’s Dr. Doolittle behind the Mirage Hotel and Casino, and everyone’s got something witty to say.

I saw Siegfried & Roy at the Mirage once, and I too wondered what they were thinking -- not the animals, Siegfried and Roy. Alas, “Father of the Pride” is from the animals’ point of view, and the animals’ point of view is that they’re jaded entertainment people moving through implicitly understood show business lives in the fabricated jungle behind Siegfried and Roy’s fabricated zoo, the Secret Garden.

It’s an OK premise on paper, and “Father of the Pride” has a lot of talent around it -- a voice cast that features John Goodman and Carl Reiner, and it was developed by Jonathan Groff, former chief of jokes on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”


“You’ve got WASP-y good looks, like James Spader,” a lion says to a panda in the show’s premiere episode.

Funny-ha-ha or funny-cute? I think the show wants us to say “funny ha-ha,” but I couldn’t get out of funny-cute mode, probably because the computer-generated imaging (CGI) used to animate the show kept reminding me of movies like “Shrek” or “Toy Story.” (“Father of the Pride,” at a reported expense of $1.6 million an episode, is billed as the first network TV series to use CGI.)

The main characters are a family of white lions, Larry (Goodman) and his wife, Kate (Cheryl Hines, Larry David’s wife on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). They live in a nice hut with their two children; Kate’s father, Sarmoti (voiced to great effect by Reiner), drops by often, with sardonic, world-weary, Jewish sage advice. In Episode 2, Larry is enlisted to perform a new magic trick. “The day before the show, stay away from heavy foods and sauces,” Sarmoti advises.

Lisa Kudrow and Andy Richter co-star in tonight’s episode as pandas (she needy, he inexperienced) meant to mate.

What remains to be seen is whether the show can outlast its somewhat limited conceit. Too much of the humor, I fear, will come to depend on animals saying the darndest things.

The show’s executive producer, DreamWorks co-partner Jeffrey Katzenberg, told The Times last week that he’d gotten the idea for the show after seeing Siegfried & Roy for “something like the 14th or 15th time.”

“What would it be like to be one of these animals and to raise a family and live in the Jungle Palace and go to work every day at a place where the CEOs are these two eccentric guys, Siegfried & Roy?” Katzenberg said he wondered.

First of all, beware the person who says he went to see Siegfried & Roy for “something like the 14th or 15th time.” When I saw it, the show played like that old “Saturday Night Live” sketch “Elvis’ Coat,” in which Elvis Presley’s jacket goes on tour after Presley’s death. Oh, sure, Siegfried and Roy were there, smiling and exuberant as always, and so were the tourists who had paid $110 a ticket to see them promenade about and occasionally make a tiger appear from a puff of smoke. But you had the sense that their camp appeal had expired; after 30 years on the Strip, they’d helped put the “Vegas” in Las Vegas, no question, but it felt like the show and its image were running on fumes.

On “Father of the Pride,” Siegfried and Roy are still performing, and the animals -- tigers but also lions and monkeys and pandas -- are bitter in a witty way. Bitter about life, like the rest of us, and letting off steam by being funny about their jobs.

“What kind of astronaut wears a rhinestone codpiece?” an Indian elephant asks Larry as they stare at Siegfried and Roy’s costumes.

They’re strolling through their jungle in a moment of casual repartee. It takes a certain suspension of disbelief now to go with this joke. Onstage that fateful Oct. 3 night, Horn’s carotid artery was punctured; rushed to the hospital, he suffered massive bleeding and several strokes (as his partner lay in critical condition in a Las Vegas hospital, Siegfried Fischbacher went on CNN’s “Larry King Live” to say that Montecore was actually trying to help Horn, not maul him).

Now said to be undergoing therapy in Denver, Horn is scheduled to appear Sept. 15 on NBC, interviewed by Maria Shriver.

“Everybody’s mad at the tiger: ‘Oh, the tiger went crazy,’ ” Chris Rock said in his most recent HBO special, speaking for everyone outside the Vegas show world. “No, he didn’t. That tiger went tiger. You know when that tiger was crazy? When he was riding on a little bike with a Hitler helmet on.”

“Father of the Pride,” in production when the incident occurred, might put a tiger in a Hitler helmet, but the animal, rather than biting back, would more likely complain that the bit was anti-Semitic. Funny-cute -- or something to that effect.



‘Father of the Pride’

Where: NBC

When: 9-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays, premiering tonight

Rating: TV-14

John Goodman...Larry the Lion

Cheryl Hines...Kate

Orlando Jones...Snack

Carl Reiner...Sarmoti

Executive producers Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jonathan Groff, Peter Mehlman, Jon Pollack. Supervising director Klay Hall. Written by Cheryl Holliday (pilot). Directed by Mark Risley (pilot).