‘Too Cute!’ downsizes its format but with same results
Television program advisories usually warn viewers about the presence of nudity, adult language or content and violence. But there is one series on Animal Planet with a unique advisory:
“The following program contains material that is just too cute. Viewer discretion is advised.”
Welcome to the world of “Too Cute!,” one of Animal Planet’s most popular series that presents baby animal coming-of-age stories.
“Too Cute!” began as two specials in 2011 before turning into an hourlong series in 2012. Each week, the series follows the lives of either kitten or puppy litters — with baby animals from other species thrown in occasionally — from their first weeks until they head off to their forever family.
And tying it all together is the grandfatherly voice-over of actor Henry Strozier, nominated this year for an Emmy for outstanding voice-over performance for the “Too Cute!” Christmas holiday installment. (The Creative Arts Emmys are being given out Saturday night.) The show has averaged 900,000 viewers per episode.
“To me it is like a hot chicken soup on a warm rainy day,” said Lisa Lucas, an executive producer at Animal Planet.
This season, the series is going through a bit of a format change. “Too Cute! Pint Sized,” which begins with back-to-back installments, is a now half an hour and features two instead of three litters.
(A “Cute-a-ton” begins at 9 a.m. Saturday leading to the premiere; there is also a new 24/7 cute channel at https://www.apl.tv/cute.htm
“You get more into a shorter period of time,” Lucas said. “What we compete with really is the kind of material that’s on YouTube. You can get your fix in 30 seconds. So we thought we have something great, let’s amp it up and take it to the next level. You get a bang of a great story across in a half-hour.”
There is an extensive casting process for the series. Among the breeds featured this year are English bulldogs, Irish setters, cockapoos, Siamese and British shorthair kittens as well as mixed breeds and rescue animals.
“We do outreach every year,” said David Stefanou, senior vice president of programming for True Entertainment, which produces “Too Cute!”
“We have built a lot of relationships over the years,” Stefanou said. “We work through breeder associations. We found our dachshund in Season 2 through a dachshund meet-up group. We have occasionally gone back to an owner. This season you will see us go back to a family of British shorthairs. Pippa, who was a kitten in a litter a couple of seasons ago, is now a mom and has a litter of her own.”
Rescued dogs with their litters finding love and solace at homes are among the most poignant subjects. And this season “Too Cute!” shines the spotlight on its first search-and-rescue dog mother and her puppies.
Lucas said the show also makes sure that the mothers and their litters are “loved as family pets first and foremost. We get pictures of the homes and the yards. We want to know the situation the animals are in.”
Each shoot lasts about six hours. “We are not rolling all of those six hours — puppies and kittens get tired and sleep,” Stefanou said. “We usually try to go in the mornings when they are a bit more active. This season, we do three shoots with them, so we capture them at the beginning, middle and end of their journeys.”
Strozier, a theater veteran, is a seasoned narrator who voiced promos for the Discovery Channel in the 1990s.
“We were looking for someone who was good at storytelling as opposed to an announcer,” said Lucas, who had worked with him on Discovery.
Strozier, who loves dogs, watches the DVD of the footage the night before he records. “It helps a great deal,” said the actor, who marvels that the writers can fashion such clever scripts out of “a bunch of animals running around.”
And Strozier is a bit taken aback by the Emmy nomination. Truth be told, he’s something of a, well, underdog. His competition at the Creative Arts Emmys? Daniel Craig, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeremy Irons and Jane Lynch.
‘Too Cute! Pint Sized’
Where: Animal Planet
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
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