The producers of NBC’s new fall comedy series “Animal Practice” hope real-life veterinarians will watch the show. First and foremost, what they want veterinarians to know is that they use “artistic license, because it is a half-hour comedy and we do have fun with it,” said executive producer Alessandro Tanaka.
He was one of three producers who spoke with Veterinary Practice News about the show, which premieres at 8 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012.
That artistic license is probably best exhibited in the character of Dr. Rizzo, a Capuchin monkey (played by Crystal, attired in a white doctor coat) who has the run of the veterinary office and often hangs out with the clinic’s head veterinarian, Dr. George Coleman, played by Justin Kirk.
“Crystal is an extension of George Coleman in that he prefers animals to people. She’s a bit of Coleman’s alter ego in a sense—and his best friend, sort of his wing man and little sidekick,” executive producer Brian Gatewood said.
The idea for the show came from a visit Gatewood made to his veterinarian’s office.
“I was visiting the vet with my two cats and you sit in a waiting room,” Gatewood said. “You are not only sitting with humans, but you are sitting with all these animals. And you look at the people and see all these different personalities and different animals, and it just seemed like a really rich place to explore human nature and animal nature.”
Gatewood took his idea to the other producers who, he said, are animal lovers and “always wanted to do a show [set] in the veterinary world.”
The producers talked with real-life veterinarians about the show.
“We spoke to a lot of different vets around Manhattan and what we found is that there is a lot of truth to the Dr. Coleman character in that he’s happier dealing with animals than people,” Gatewood said. “Just about every vet we talked to when we ran that by them would laugh and say, ‘Well, that’s just about every vet, or they would say ‘That’s a show about me.’
“We want to keep [the show] in the realm of reality,” Gatewood added.
Executive producer Scot Armstrong noted, “Our show is [set] in an eight-story building [in New York City]. It’s kind of like the Mayo Clinic of animal hospitals.”
How do they plan to keep the show real?
“We try to ground it in reality,” Tanaka said. “We talk to [vet techs] and so will say, ‘We need a disease’ and ‘Could this actually happen—would a bird wear a neck brace?’ They guide us through,” said Tanaka.
In the first episode, the veterinarians take care of a Bengal tiger, a penguin, a dog and a cat. In one scene, a chicken runs free in the hallway. Again, the producers remind, it’s artistic license.
“We ask for some artistic license because this is a half-hour comedy,” Armstrong said. “But we want people to love the vets because at the end of the day, they really care about the animals. It’s going to be a show that portrays vets in an interesting, fun light,” Armstrong said.
Two real-life veterinarians serve the show as technical advisers: Ryan Folse, DVM, is the on-set adviser and works full time at the All Animal Veterinary Group in Acton, Calif. Peter Erling, DVM, is the show’s veterinary consultant and is chief medical officer and founding partner of Choice Veterinary Care in Los Angeles and Manhattan Beach, Calif.
All animals on the show come from Birds & Animals Unlimited in Acton, Calif.
Armstrong said the series’ bottom line is that, “It’s more a show about the the people because it is a character-driven comedy. For us, the premise of the show is a true workplace structure and we get to have some animals in it, too. It’s a workplace that we happen to be celebrating, where the characters take care of animals, love animals and commit their lives to helping animals.”
What will real-life veterinarians take away from the show?
“I would think a veterinarian would get a laugh,” said Armstrong.
“We have created a very strong character who is a vet and I think he is a really cool character,” Tanaka adds, “so hopefully vets will like Dr. Coleman.”
Other cast members are Tyler Labine, who plays Dr. Doug Jackson, Bobby Lee as Dr. Yamamoto, Betsy Sodaro as animal handler Angela, Kym Whitley as nurse Juanita and JoAnna Garcia Swisher as Dorothy Crane, new director of the animal hospital and Dr. Coleman’s former girlfriend.
“Animal Practice” is filmed at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles.