Culture Representation: The documentary film “Cat Daddies” features a group of predominantly white people (with one African American) discussing how men and cats can have special bonds with each other.
Culture Clash: The men in the documentary dispel stereotypes that the only people who are passionate about cats are “crazy cat ladies,” and they share stories about how their cats sometimes helped them get through rough times in their lives.
Culture Audience: “Cat Daddies” will appeal mainly to people who like cats and are interested in feel-good stories about living with domesticated cats.
Through entertaining and heartwarming stories, the documentary “Cat Daddies” is proof that it’s an outdated stereotype to think that people who love cats are mostly women. The movie is really about how humans and cats enrich each others’ lives. It’s a simple concept, but the movie does an excellent job of portraying all the complex and nuanced ways that cats can bring joy and companionship, even to people who thought that they weren’t very fond of cats.
Directed by Mye Huong, “Cat Daddies” focuses on nine different men in the United States who share their personal stories about how their cats changed their lives. Most of the men were in their 30s and 40s at the time of being filmed for “Cat Daddies,” while one of the men is over the age of 60. The nine “cat daddies” in the documentary are:
Nathan Kehn (also known as Nathan the Cat Lady) is an actor/social media influencer who lives in North Hollywood, California. He has made somewhat of a career out of documenting his antics with his four cats: Pickles, Ginger, Annie and Princess. Kehn says that once he reached 25,000 followers on social media with his cat videos, he knew that he could try to make a living from it, especially since the cat videos boosted his social media following to a minimum number that he says is needed to be considered for certain acting jobs. As a bachelor who admits he spends a lot of date nights alone, Kehn says he now knows, “I can’t be with someone who’s not an animal lover.” He mentions that he broke up with an ex-girlfriend because she didn’t like cats and wanted him to get rid of his cats.
Jeff Judkins is a software engineer, who moved from California to Minnesota, and back to California, during the course of the film production of “Cat Daddies,” which was filmed mostly in 2020. The movie has an epilogue of updates of what the “cat daddies” have been up to through 2022. Judkins has a black-and-white male cat named Zulu, while his roommate Erin LemMon has a female cat named Mrs. Fitzby. Together, these roommates like to frequently go hiking and camping with their cats. The documentary includes a particularly harrowing experience that Judkins and LemMon had with a wildfire that hit their neighborhood in Boulder Creek, California.
David Giovanni is an elderly former construction worker who has the most tearjearking story in the movie. Giovanni, an immigrant from the European country of Georgia, has lived in the U.S. since 2001, and has fallen on hard times in New York City. Homeless and broke since 2018, he has health issues, such as cerebral palsy and a cancerous tumor on his right arm. He says what gives him the will to live is a brown tabby male cat named Lucky, whom Giovanni treats like a son. Giovanni’s relationship with Lucky (who was raised by Giovanni since Lucky was a kitten) goes though some difficult transitions because most homeless shelters do not allow cats, and there’s a period of time when Giovanni’s extended stay in a hospital and surgery recovery force him to be separated from Lucky.
Chris Alese is a New York City police officer who became a friend of Giovanni’s when he would see Giovanni and Lucky while on patrol duty. “Cat Daddies” shows how these two men from different backgrounds formed a friendship that was deeply affected by what was going to happen to Lucky when Giovanni had to be separated from the cat. These experiences moved Alese so much, he eventually became a cat daddy, to a female tabby named Pez.
Jordan Lide is a firefighter at Belmont Fire Department in Greenville, South Carolina. Lide and his co-workers help take care of an orange-and-white cat named Flame the Arson Cat, who wandered into the fire station one day as a stray, malnourished cat, and charmed the employees there into keeping him. In the documentary, Lide describes himself as the main person who convinced his boss to let the cat live at the fire station, even though having a cat in this workplace was against the rules at the time. Flame has made himself at home and has fit right in with the unpredictability of working at a fire station. Lide says Flame has never gotten in the way when the fire trucks have to suddenly leave and enter the building for emergencies.
David Durst is a truck driver who lives in Florida but travels all over the United States with his beloved feline Flora the Trucker Cat, who is a tan tabby who appears to be a Persian mix. Durst says that dogs are the most popular pets that truckers bring on the road, but he states that cat pets are more common on truck-driving excursions than most people think they are. (He also mentions that birds and reptiles are occasional pet companions for truckers too.) Flora is an unusual domesticated cat who likes activities on all sorts of rugged terrain outdoors, such as climbing on cliffs and trekking through snow-covered land. Durst is shown in the documentary on adventure trips with Flora and his girlfriend Destiny Rolfe, including some gorgeous scenes in the Arizona wilderness of Flagstaff and Sedona.
Will Zweigart is the founder of the Brooklyn, New York-based non-profit group Flatbush Cats, whose specialty is spaying and neutering stray cats to help reduce the homeless cat epidemic in Brooklyn. Feral cats that are too wild or too “unsocialized” to be adopted go through a humane “trap, neuter, return” (TNR) process, while the stray cats that are adoptable are placed in foster care or permanent homes. Zweigart (who’s a cat daddy to two cats named Teddy and Franny) says the biggest challenge for Flatbush Cats is fundraising, and this is the most important lesson he’s learned about getting money for a non-profit: “You have to document your work … We committed to social media early on.”
Ryan Robertson is a stunt performer in Atlanta who thought he would never live with a cat because he never had pets as a child, since his mother was afraid of animals. “I shared her fear,” he confesses. That all changed when he met a male cat named Toodles, a brown Maine Coon who weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Robertson got Toodles at a PetSmart adoption event. He also credits Toodles with helping him court the woman who would become Robertson’s girlfriend: fitness trainer Megan Dovell, who adores cats and is also featured in the documentary.
Peter Mares (a schoolteacher in Dana Point, California) has a black-and-white female cat named Keys, who has become a minor social media celebrity nicknamed GoalKitty. It all started when Mares noticed that Keys likes to stand on her hind legs and raise her front legs, thereby looking like a human soccer goalie holding her hands straight up in the air. He took some photos of her in this standing position, some of the photos went viral, and the rest is history. He sells GoalKitty merchandise and makes personal appearances with her, with some people traveling hundreds of miles just to meet her. Just like many of the men featured in the documentary, Mares says his love life improved because he found a partner who loves cats too.
Of course, any documentary called “Cat Daddies” has plenty of adorable cat footage, which is aided by engaging cinematography by Rob E. Bennett and very good editing by Hoang and Dave Boyle. Hoang and Boyle are also the producers of “Cat Daddies,” which is clearly a project that is a labor of love that can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates how pet animals are often ideal companions through good times and bad times.
“Cat Daddies” has some commentary about the myth that only women are supposed to like cats the most. Carson Couch, a firefighter at Belmont Fire Department in Greenville, describes how Flame affected the men who work in the fire department: “A lot of the guys here have only had dogs. Flame changed their perception of cats. He’s personable and lovable.” All of the men interviewed in the documentary say some version of the truth that a lot of men have always liked cats. But over time, it’s become more socially acceptable for men to publicly admit it, because liking cats isn’t supposed to be limited to one particular human gender.
Zweigart, who is the only one in the group of interviewees who has a job completely devoted to cats, started Flatbush Cats when he worked in advertising. He has since left his advertising job to focus on Flatbush Cats full-time. Zweigart says Flatbush Cats’ next big goal is to open a low-cost clinic in Brooklyn that will offer a variety of medical services for cats but will primarily be focused on spaying and neutering.
At a Q&A after a “Cat Daddies” screening during the movie’s opening weekend in New York City, Hoang was in attendance with several of the documentary’s filmmaking team and interview subjects, including Bennett, Giovanni, Alese, Zweigart, Judkins and Lede. Zweigart gave an update on the planned Flatbush Cats clinic, by saying that he signed a 10-year-lease on a space for the clinic, and the group has a goal to raise $1.5 million in start-up funds for the clinic, which will also be involved in adoptions and foster care for pets. (Dogs will also be treated at the clinic.)
Lucky’s bittersweet journey with Giovanni is chronicled in the documentary. Full details won’t be revealed in this review. However, it’s enough to say that, as of this writing, Lucky is still in Giovanni’s life, but in a different way than when the “Cat Daddies” documentary began filming them.
“Cat Daddies” isn’t just a movie about men gushing over their cats. The documentary shows, through actions and the men’s own words, how living with cats taught them how to become more patient and more open-minded. Cats by nature are known for being more independent than most other domesticated pets, but this independence also means that someone who lives with a cat has to earn the cat’s trust. Once that trust is earned, as “Cat Daddies” shows so terrifically, it can turn into a beautiful and loving friendship where the cat becomes a member of the family.
Sky Island Films released “Cat Daddies” in New York City on October 14, 2022, with an expansion to cinemas in more U.S. cities, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand in subsequent weeks.
The following is a press release from First Run Features:
Millions of rescue dogs from the rural South have been transported to new homes thanks to the tireless efforts of a vast, grassroots network of dog rescuers. “Free Puppies!” is the true story of where those dogs come from and how a group of feisty and intrepid women rescuers are working together to save them.
Although transports have moved dogs from the South for decades, when Hurricane Katrina left more than 250,000 pets stranded, the infrastructure of modern pet transport for a nation-wide dog rescue effort was born. Since then, individual volunteers, transporters, shelters and rescue groups have created a movement to place millions of southern dogs in areas of the country with high demand for adoption but low supply.
By following a group of women dog rescuers from Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, “Free Puppies!” reveals the challenges that contribute to the rescue dog crisis in the first place. These women not only save dogs from euthanasia, but also organize affordable and accessible spay and neuter, reform local ordinances, advocate for humane education, and fight urgent and complex challenges facing underserved areas of the rural South. The film includes interviews with the ASPCA, Atlanta Humane Society, McKamey Animal Center, My Kids Have Paws Veterinary Clinic, Dixie Day Spay, and dozens of rescue organizations, shelter directors, healthcare providers, and local officials.
“Free Puppies!,” a film by Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas opens August 12, 2022, in live cinemas.
70 minutes | Color | English
Samantha Wishman – Director, Producer, Editor
Christina Thomas – Director, Co-Producer, Editor
Muffie Meyer – Story Editor
Carter McCormick – Director of Photography Eliot Popko – Director of Photography
Joey McCormick and Willard Hamilton – Original Music
“The American Rescue Dog Show” is the preeminent dog competition featuring rescued companions as they strut their fluff, competing for a slew of “best in” titles while stealing America’s hearts. These prized pups may be cute, but the competition is fierce. In the two-hour special, rescued dogs from all across the country will compete in seven categories including Best In Underbite, Best In Snoring, Best In Belly Rubs and more. A $10,000 donation to a local animal welfare organization will be made in honor of the winning dog in each category, and each category winner will have the chance to be named the Best In Rescue with an additional $100,000 donation being made in their honor. This comedic and heartfelt take on the world of competitive dog shows is a celebration of rescued dogs and the joy they bring to our lives. Dynamic duo Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore host America’s cutest competition special with ESPN’s Monica McNutt serving as sideline correspondent. Dog-loving celebrity guest judges, who will be announced at a later date, will also make special appearances.
“The American Rescue Dog Show” was created by Michael Levitt and Jennifer Schulz. Michael Levitt, Charles Wachter, Jill Goularte and Jennifer Schulz serve as executive producers.
The following is a press release from Discovery+ and Animal Planet:
Everyone’s favorite other game is back in action for the ultimate woof-a-thon. The original call-to-adoption television event and cutest sports competition, PUPPY BOWL, returns for its 18th year, highlighting more shelters, more incredible stories, and the most puppies ever featured in PUPPY BOWL history. Get ready to cheer on the adoptable puppy players of TEAM RUFF and TEAM FLUFF as they give it their all to catch air-speed and take home this year’s CHEWY “Lombarky” trophy. Catch all the action in the GEICO ‘stadium within a stadium’ that takes this game to the next level. Between ear pulls, tail tugs, sloppy kisses, incredible interceptions, puppy penalties and hard-won touchdowns, this is the game you don’t want to miss! Tune in to PUPPY BOWL XVIII, the 3-hour spectacular event that can be streamed on discovery+, the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service, and Animal Planet on Sunday, February 13 at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT.
PUPPY BOWL celebrates adoptable pups in all their cuteness and showcases the incredible shelters and rescues, as well as their staffers, who dedicate their lives to helping animals find their fur-ever loving homes. This year an astounding 67 shelters and rescues from 33 states bring 118 incredible adoptable puppy players out to sport their TEAM RUFF ‘Tail Mary Tangerine’ and TEAM FLUFF ‘Bark Blue’ bandana colors. Each pup player is coming to strut their paws and show off their uniqueness, and with the help of the Wisdom Panel™ dog DNA test, we’ll find out what’s beyond those bandanas and luscious fur, and how each dog’s breed mix might give them a leg-up on the field. And on top of these hidden traits which may be revealed, these players will give it their all to chase, fetch, guard, heel, and sprint to the CHEWY end zone pylons for the ultimate touchdowns and score game catching field goals on THE HOME DEPOT goal posts.
Thanks to our returning and notoriously entertaining slo-mo cam, fans will get to see these canines’ devotion to the game as they put their tricks to the test to score a touchdown and a possible chase of the tail. While showing off their tricks and shakes, audiences will get the pawesome views from the water bowl cam which will catch our furry friends in a PEDIGREE® timeout to re-energize their quirky selves and quench their thirst. For the ultimate top-notch aerial view, the TEMPTATIONS™ Kitty Sky Box will also be featured throughout the game so fans can feel as if they’re in the center of all the puppy madness.
The PUPPY BOWL XVIII Pre-Game Show begins exclusively on discovery+ and Animal Planet at 1PM ET/ 10AM PT where fan-favorite PUPPY BOWL sportscasters Rodt Weiler, Sheena Inu, James Hound, and field reports Mini Pinscher and Greta Dane provide the inside scoop on this year’s Puppy Bowl Draft ahead of the big game. The pre-game show spotlights exclusive interviews with coaches and players, a look at the adorable pups warming up and running their favorite routes during CHEWY’s ‘Play of the Day.’ In addition, audiences will get a first-look tease at the purr-fect halftime show through the ARM & HAMMER™ Clump & Seal™ Kitty Halftime Report. We’ll also get puppy DNA analysis from Wisdom Panel™ dog DNA test Players Report and catch up with several special puppy players past and present including Chunky Monkey, who won the hearts of many during Puppy Bowl XVII and Marshall, who was declared victorious as the winner of the Puppy Bowl XVII ‘Pupularity Playoff”. Those who tune-in will meet Biscuit, the Washington Capitals service pup who is training with America’s VetDogs and see a special look at the BISSELL Pet FoundationTM and their rescue efforts of transporting cats and dogs out of the Hurricane Ida danger zone to safety at Animal Welfare League in Alexandria, VA.
To kick off the game, special guests Elmo & Tango are traveling all the way from Sesame Street to gather the PEDIGREE® Starting Lineup players in the center of the field for the PUPPY BOWL XVIII coin toss to who from Team Fluff or Team Ruff will be the first to wag their tails! In addition, Elmo & Tango will be featured throughout the game as they cheer on one unforgettable pup, Wasabi, a Chihuahua/Cocker Spaniel mix from The Sato Project, from the sidelines throughout the game. As the game progresses, we will see which pup has what it takes for the one and only BISSELL Pet FoundationTM MVP (Most Valuable Puppy) award by scoring the most touchdowns. This pup will join a league of past MVP champions, and through TROPICAL SMOOTHIE CAFE®, audiences will catch up with a previous Puppy Bowl MVP now in his loving, forever home and living his best life “on Tropic Time”. Be sure to tune in to find out which lucky pup will also take home the coveted SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. Underdog Award!
And of course, Dan Schachner, PUPPY BOWL’s official and favorite Ruff-eree is returning for his 11th year of calling the puppy penalties, ruffs stumbles & tumbles, and awesome touchdowns for a game unlike any other. Dan is ready for the ultimate puppy showdown and fans will hear all these calls and more from returning commentators Steve Levy and Taylor Rooks as they give us the play-by-play coverage of the rambunctious pups of Team Fluff and Team Ruff as they frolic, jump, dive, and occasionally snooze their way to victory. In addition to seeing these puppy players on the field, audiences will also see the return of the SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. Pup Close and Personal segments that shine a light on adorable star athletes including one special Senior Spotlight story which showcases that age is just a number and senior dogs are ultimately puppies at heart. This year’s Pup Close and Personal features various segments including:
A special profile on Orange Twins Rescue, started by Ariana Grande and her choreographers and creative directors’, twins Scott & Brian, who accompany a pair of bonded Siberian Husky/ Chihuahua mix puppy sisters, Bimini & Tayce to Farm Animal Refuge in San Diego where they meet baby goats and cows
Kirby, a very special Labrador retriever who is the Houston Texans’ service pup in-training in partnership with America’s Vet Dogs, who visits NRG Stadium for a service practice session with Texans player Justin Reid
Hoku, a American Staffordshire Terrier/ Catahoula Leopard Mix; and Puppy Bowl’s first ever Hawaiian pup, from Maui Humane Society, who as a participant of the rescue’s ‘Buddies’ program, embarks on a special field trip to a hike in Maui’s National Parks where we learn about the legend of the ‘Poi’ dogs of ancient Polynesian culture
Birch, a Chihuahua / Toy Fox Terrier mix who is cared for by a special foster under Ninna’s Road to Rescue foster program and is coached for the big game by Puppy Bowl XVI alum, Darcy
Benny, a special needs Labradoodle, who is living his best life with a foster from Bosley’s Place where he spends his days practicing laps on the lush property with his fellow dog companions
A special look at The Dogist (Elias Weiss Friedman) who teams up with Pilots to the Rescue, to bring one incredible Dalmatian puppy, Pongo, on a flight from a Virginia shelter to New York City for PUPPY BOWL XVIII
In addition to these incredible Pup Close stories, PUPPY BOWL XVIII will also feature an unforgettable senior spotlight story featuring Mr. Lee Asher from the upcoming discovery+ series, My Pack Life, as he hosts Sharkey, a Greyhound Mix from Family Dogs New Life shelter at his own rural sanctuary, The Asher House, in Oregon where Sharkey will not have a day full of adventure but will have a chance of finding a forever home.
During the game, audiences will also meet nine fuzzball special needs players that are looking forward to finding their forever home; including Benny, a wheelchair bound Labradoodle featured in one of this year’s Pup Close stories; Forrest, a one-eyed Neapolitan Mastiff/Cane Corso Mix; Rocket, a deaf Chihuahua/Dachshund: Pongo, a deaf Dalmatian; Ridley, a deaf and vision impaired Border Collie; Bunny, a deaf American Staffordshire Terrier/Labrador Retriever Mix; Moby, a French Bulldog with a cleft palate; Bimini, a vision impaired Siberian Husky/Chihuahua Mix; and Irwin, a three-legged American Pit Bull Terrier/Chihuahua Mix. This year’s big game will feature the return of two special PUPPY BOWL moments. First, TEAM RUFF and TEAM FLUFF players will be cheered by adorable, adoptable puppy cheerleaders who will root and howl for their favorite players from the sidelines. This year, the new cheer squad will bring-it from their own special sideline setup to shake their pom poms, run a few cheer-formations, and amp up the volume with an overload of cuteness as PUPPY BOWL XVIII players make their way down the field. Next, audiences will again see Puppy Bowl’s ‘Adoptable Pup’ segments, hosted by Dan Schachner and sponsored by CHEWY. Sprinkled throughout the program, 11 shelters from around the country will feature one of their puppies (and 3 shelters with kittens during KITTY HALF-TIME) that are all up for adoption during the game!
In addition to these unforgettable moments, put your paws together midway through the game for the ARM & HAMMER™ Clump & Seal™ KITTY HALF-TIME SHOW for these adoptable kittens at their practically purr-fect beach party. At this ocean-side getaway, audiences will experience the beach-tastic party with these felines having some fun in the sun and learning about their heartwarming adoption stories in their loving new fur-ever home.
Fans can also access even more furry fun and exclusive content by downloading discovery+. Leading up to PUPPY BOWL XVIII, discovery+ and Animal Planet GO users will find exclusive in-app original programming, including the PUPPY BOWL mid-form series “Pupclose & Personal” featuring Ariana Grande’s best friends and choreographers, Scott and Brian Nicholson, who founded Orange Twins Rescue, a non-profit organization that rehabilitates and rescue animals in need. Plus, we’ll also see Dan the Ref take us down memory lane, highlighting the very best and firsts of Puppy Bowl’s 17-year history. Additionally, fans are also invited to Tweet along with game day commentator Meep the Bird and vote in real time, for the winner of the Most Valuable Puppy award. Results will be revealed during the epic program.
For the first time in Puppy Bowl history, there will be 23 exclusive Puppy Bowl NFTs released leading up to and on the day of the game hosted by Chronicle, an NFT studio and marketplace. Each drop will feature unique and pawsitively adorable trading cards varying in price and rarity, and a portion of the proceeds from all the sales will benefit Orange Twins Rescue, an animal rescue organization founded by brothers Scott and Brian Nicholson, and Ariana Grande. For the latest on when the NFTs are releasing, follow along on Animal Planet’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
Additionally, fans can look forward to the following exclusive digital content: Elmo will be taking over Discovery’s Instagram Story to tell his own puppy adoption story; Kirby, the Houston Texans’ service pup in-training, will be hosting a Discovery Instagram Story takeover as he prepares to play in the Puppy Bowl; and the cutest pregame puppy scrimmage will stream live on Animal Planet TikTok the day of the game.
Fans can also show off their puppy fandom by using the special custom GIF sticker pack available by searching “Puppy Bowl” in the GIF section on social platforms or by visiting the Puppy Bowl GIPHY page.
Official PUPPY BOWL XVIII sponsors include ARM & HAMMER™ Clump & Seal™, BISSELL Pet FoundationTM, CHEWY, GEICO, THE HOME DEPOT, the PEDIGREE® brand, SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC., TEMPTATIONS™, TROPICAL SMOOTHIE CAFE®, and Wisdom Panel™ pet DNA test.
For more information about the shelters, rescues and organizations that participated in PUPPY BOWL XVIII, Animal Planet audiences can visit Puppybowl.com/Adopt.
PUPPY BOWL XVIII is produced for discovery+ and Animal Planet by Bright Spot Content, an All3Media America company. Simon Morris is executive producer and showrunner with Suzanne Rauscher and Sandy Varo Jarrell also serving as executive producers. For Animal Planet, Erin Wanner is executive producer, Pat Dempsey is supervising producer, and Marissa Donovan is production coordinator.
The absolute pinnacle of the fierce world of dog show competitions are the AKC National Championship and the Westminster Dog Show, but it takes countless hours of practice, grit, and determination to get there.And while the adult competitions are fierce, emotions run higher in the junior division where kids are still learning the ropes of competition on top of figuring out who they are as individuals and where they fit in the world. In this all-new coming-of-age competition series, THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS brings a never-before-seen look inside Junior Showmanship where teen handlers compete among thousands for one of the limited, and highly coveted spots at the Westminster Dog Show, while also navigating the everyday journey of being a typical teenager! Get ready to meet this unique group of champions who reveal the heart, spirit, and what it ultimately takes to be “best in show.” The first two episodes of THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS stream exclusively on discovery+ beginning Wednesday, November 17, 2021, with new episodes streaming every following Wednesday.
In THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS, it’s not just the dogs who are judged—it’s also the aspiring teen dog handlers. And that’s where world-renowned coach Jody Davidson comes in, with her long-standing record of winning dog competitions and guiding these young adults each step of the way on their path to self-discovery. The teen handlers and their enthusiastic parents learn exactly what it takes to stand out from the crowd and ultimately take home the winning title. And while the drama may heat up with each dog show, Jody’s group of teens are true athletes who support each other and have each other’s backs through the thick and thin of each competition.
In this all-new series, audiences will see these ambitious, quirky, and curious kids learn the tricks of the trade as they embark on the journey of growing up and learning more and more about who they are. We’ll meet the latest team members from Jody’s group of competitors; 13-year-old Emerson who has to make the decision of retiring her beloved dog Rye from the ring and start from scratch with a brand new puppy; 11-year of Griffin, Emerson’s little brother, who has big dreams of becoming the best of the best, and even beating his sister in the competition; 16-year-old Turner who hopes to make the Nationals before he ages out of the age-based competition, while also balancing his relationship with girlfriend, Emma, whom he competes within the ring; 13-year-old Camryn who is obsessed with getting that first prize ribbon with her show-stopping Pomeranian Kevin; and 13-year-old, Lily, who is busy showing her dog Gnarly as she works tirelessly to overcome her social anxiety inside and out of the ring, while also exploring and growing into her own identity.
Follow the conversation on social media with #TheMightyUnderdogs, and follow Animal Planet on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates.
THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS is produced for Discovery by Catalina Content. For Catalina Content, Jeff Collins and Brenda Coston are executive producers. For Discovery, Keith Hoffman is executive producer and Sarah Russell is supervising producer.
discovery+ is the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service. discovery+ features a landmark partnership with Verizon that gives their customers with select plans up to 12 months of discovery+ on Verizon. discovery+ has the largest-ever content offering of any new streaming service at launch, featuring a wide range of exclusive, original series across popular, passion verticals in which Discovery brands have a strong leadership position, including lifestyle and relationships; home and food; true crime; paranormal; adventure and natural history; as well as science, tech and the environment, and a slate of high-quality documentaries. For more, visit discoveryplus.com or find it on a variety of platforms and devices, including ones from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku and Samsung.
The following is a press release from National Geogrpahic:
Today, National Geographic announced the highly anticipated return of dog behavior expert Cesar Millan with “Cesar Millan: Better Human, Better Dog,” premiering on July 30, 2021, at 9/8c on National Geographic and simulcast on Nat Geo WILD. The all-new 10-part series brings Cesar back when pet owners need him the most, as the world has changed significantly since Cesar made his television debut 16 years ago. Airing globally in 172 countries and 43 languages, new episodes will air back-to-back on Fridays at 9/8c and 10/9c on National Geographic and encore Sundays at 8/7c and 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD. Episodes will also be available to stream on Disney+ each Wednesday, starting Aug. 4, 2021.
As humans face a world never seen before, they have turned to four-legged friends as a way to console, bringing harmony and peace to their homes. In fact, dog adoptions are hitting record highs over the past year, with some cities reporting a 90% rise in adoption rates. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and sometimes more pooches can cause more problems. Many rescue dogs can come from a troubled past resulting in unknown trust issues, which can be difficult for new owners. “Cesar Millan: Better Human, Better Dog” showcases Cesar Millan as he takes on the most challenging cases yet, treating a host of new canine behavioral issues impacted by well-intentioned but impulsive owners.
In the new series, Cesar opens the gates to the famed Dog Psychology Center, his California ranch retreat for dogs. Here he transforms canines – and families – one case at a time, working to make the world a better place. With updated philosophies, new techniques and family support, Cesar tackles some of the most demanding cases of his career.
Transformations include cases like Goliath, a dog that was once so unpredictably aggressive he blocked paramedics from entering his home during a family emergency. He is now a medical companion animal, able to seek assistance when his owner suffers a seizure. Also, follow Insta-famous Ducky the Yorkie as he em’barks’ on a journey with Cesar to gain comfort and composure with his second owner so that the newlyweds can finally pursue their dreams of starting a family. A rottweiler named Kuma is also transformed from an unstable liability to a calm, confident member of a family with five young children. To complement his efforts, Cesar’s own exotic animal ‘paw’sonal assistants pitch in to assist in the rehabilitation process – including llamas, a parrot and a miniature horse – all full-time residents of the Dog Psychology Center.
Episode descriptions and premiere dates are as follows:
“Fit For Service”
Premieres Friday, July 30, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 4
Cesar welcomes a broken pack to the ranch and helps the pet parents overcome past trauma so they can move forward united. Getting a little help from DPC trainers, Cesar turns a dangerous pit bull into a well-balanced dog who can provide help in an emergency. The pet parents of a famous Yorkie seek help from Cesar to get his frantic behavior under control before they start a family.
“One Brick at a Time”
Premieres Friday, July 30, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 4
Cesar comes to the aid of a 68-year-old recently retired woman, Judy, whose over-excited Australian kelpie, Shadow, has ruined her retirement and has developed a strange fixation with bricks. After several attempts to train and correct both the dog and Judy’s behavior, Cesar is able to transform them both, making for one of the most rewarding transformations in Cesar’s career.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 6, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 11
Cesar aids a family of first responders with three large and out-of-control dogs, including an aggressive pit bull. With help from his own pack, Cesar teaches the family new techniques to prevent dangerous behavior and get this pack back on track. First-time dog owners of an over-excited bernedoodle with separation anxiety look to Cesar for guidance to bring order to their home.
“Front of the Pack”
Premieres Friday, Aug. 6, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 11
Cesar helps a military veteran and his pack get back in order when his German shepherd mix, who helped him through his PTSD, has developed an unhealthy bond with him. And later, a young woman looks to Cesar for help when her dachshund puppy’s dangerous habit of eating trash off the ground has put her in a life-threatening situation.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 13, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 18
The Thompson pack is recovering from past trauma at the hands of an abusive ex-husband. Now, the women have suffered another tragedy: coonhound Nyla has become explosively aggressive, accidentally killing one family dog and viciously attacking another. Cesar needs to help the entire Thompson pack heal from past wounds and rehabilitate Nyla before the family is faced with a heartbreaking decision.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 13, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 18
Cesar sets out to help a young couple’s cantankerous Chihuahua, whose recent blindness makes him increasingly hostile to be around. And later, a family makes a desperate plea to Cesar to help them rein in their fast-growing and overexcited Belgian Malinois before he becomes too tough to tame.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 20, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 25
Cesar works with a Mexican breed close to his heart when he rehabilitates twin dogs whose over-excited behavior has put their owner at risk of eviction from her apartment building. Later, an actress turns to Cesar for help with an overprotective pint-sized pooch that’s creating too much drama of her own.
“Dogs v. Cats”
Premieres Friday, Aug. 20, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 25
Cesar helps a family of seven with their young Rottweiler, who’s grown aggressive and territorial after a burglary at the family home. With help from his own pack, Cesar instructs the pet parents on techniques to exert leadership behavior and reestablish themselves atop the pack. Parents of a young pitsky with an overactive prey drive toward their cats look to Cesar for guidance to bring order and harmony into their home.
“Tail End of Trauma”
Premieres Friday, Aug. 27, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Sept. 1
Cesar helps a fearful family, which is still holding on to the pain of losing their first dog in a tragic accident, deal with their two-year-old black lab’s similarly aggressive personality. And later, a young 10-year-old girl looks to Cesar for help when her emotional support puppy is causing more chaos than comfort.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 27, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Sept. 1
Cesar sets out to help a young couple’s sensitive Australian cattle dog, whose severe separation anxiety has held hostage the lives of his pet parents for nearly a year. And later, Cesar attempts to calm a blinding Lhasa apso, who lacks basic hygiene and has almost become too hostile for his exhausted owners to provide his needed eye care.
CESAR MILLAN: BETTER HUMAN BETTER DOG is the perfect series for pet owners across America – new and old! Even through troubled times, Cesar constantly overcomes obstacles, instilling faith in disgruntled pet owners. Humans are clearly not the only ones feeling restless with the onset of the dog days of summer. Dogs need help adjusting to the dynamic world we are living in too!
CESAR MILLAN: BETTER HUMAN BETTER DOG is produced by Leepson Bounds Entertainment for National Geographic. Cesar Millan serves as host and executive producer, with special consideration to Cesar’s Way Inc. and support from the Cesar Millan Foundation. For Leepson Bounds, executive producers are David Leepson, Jane Mun, Roger Roddy and Aaron Rice. For National Geographic, executive producer is Breanna Hoepner; senior vice president of unscripted development and production is Janet Han Vissering.
About National Geographic Partners LLC:
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the National Geographic Society, is committed to bringing the world premium science, adventure and exploration content across an unrivaled portfolio of media assets. NGP combines the global National Geographic television channels (National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo MUNDO, Nat Geo PEOPLE) with National Geographic’s media and consumer-oriented assets, including National Geographic magazines; National Geographic studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children’s media; and ancillary activities that include travel, global experiences and events, archival sales, licensing and e-commerce businesses. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 133 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers … and reaching millions of people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information visit natgeotv.com or nationalgeographic.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Dogs may get credit for being humanity’s best friend, but to many people, cats are just as much our loyal partners — even though if you asked cats they might not admit it! “Cat People” explores our fascinating relationship with cats through the lens of some of the most remarkable and surprising “cat people” in the world, defying the negative stereotypes of what it means to be a cat person while revealing the fundamental truths of what it means to have deep bonds with these fiercely independent, mysterious creatures.
Our beloved best friends are back! Dogs returns to explore the powerful bond between humanity and dogs in four new intimate, heartwarming episodes. Whether it’s the story of an astronaut, a priest, a military contractor, or the handler of a legendary university mascot, Dogs shows us how these beautiful animals occupy the same place in all of our hearts — one reserved not just for pets, but for family.
Season 2 of “Dogs” premieres on Netflix on July 7, 2021.
The 145th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show took place at Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York, on June 12 and June 13, 2021. In the U.S., portions of the event were televised on Fox, FS1 and FS2. The show could also be livestreamed on the Fox Sports app and FoxSports.com. GCHG CH Pequest Wasabi, a 3-year-old male Pekinese, was named Best in Show.
It was the first time that the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show took place Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York. The show’s usual location at New York City’s Madison Square Garden was not available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event also makred the first time in more than 30 years that the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show named its Best in Show winner live on broadcast TV. The show has been on
Anchoring the weekend’s primetime coverage were MLB, NFL and NASCAR host Chris Myers, Westminster Kennel Club announcer Gail Miller Bisher and judge Don Sturz in the booth. Jenny Taft, moderator of FS1 studio show “Undisputed” and the network’s lead college football reporter, returned as the event’s host. NFL and soccer reporter Sara Walsh interviewed judges and handlers.
FS1 televised group judging on June 12 and June 13, with Fox televising more group judging and the crowining of the Best in Show winner live.
Westminster Weekend began June 12 with the Masters Agility Championship on Fox. Fox Soccer lead play-by-play announcer John Strong called the action, joining analyst and dog trainer Terry Simons and reporter Jennifer Hale.
Strong and Hale also contributed to Fox’s breed judging June 12 on FS2 and June 13 on FS1. Veteran judges Kimberly Meredith and Jason Hoke joined Strong, while Hale spoke with some of the event’s participants.
The Fox Sports app and WestminsterKennelClub.org provided more coverage of the weekend’s events with original content and bonus cameras. Charlotte Wilder, Fox Sports columnist and co-host of The People’s Sports Podcast, was on location with regular updates across Fox Sports digital and social platforms.
Here are the results of the event:
2021 Best in Show was awarded to GCHG CH Pequest Wasabi.
Breeder: David Fitzpatrick
Owner: Sandra Middlebrooks & Peggy Steinman & Iris Love & D Fitzpatrick
Sire: GCHG CH Pequest Pickwick
Dam: CH Pequest Sushi GrandAKCTS 38696002
2021 Reserve Best In Show was awarded to GCHP CH Pinnacle Kentucky Bourbon
Breeder: Justin Smithey & Yvonne Sovereign
Owner: Justin Smithey & Dr Ken Latimer & Judy Descutner & Nancy Shaw & Cheslie Smithey
Culture Representation: The documentary “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” features a racially diverse group of people (African American, white, Latino and Asian) discussing their connection to the groundbreaking children’s TV series “Sesame Street.”
Culture Clash: “Sesame Street,” which launched in 1969 on PBS, was the first nationally televised children’s program in the U.S. to be racially integrated, and “Sesame Street” has endured controversy over racial diversity, AIDS and representation of the LGBTQ community.
Culture Audience: “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a comprehensive overview of “Sesame Street,” with an emphasis on how “Sesame Street” is responding to current global issues.
ABC’s documentary “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” offers some nostalgia for “Sesame Street” fans, but the movie is more concered about how this groundbreaking children’s culture has made an impact around the world and with contemporary social issues. Directed by Rebecca Gitlitz, it’s an occasionally repetitive film that admirably embraces diversity in a variety of viewpoints. The major downside to the film is that it won’t be considered a timeless “Sesame Street” documentary, because the movie very much looks like it was made in 2020/2021. Therefore, huge parts of the movie will look outdated in a few years.
“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” premiered on ABC just three days after director Marilyn Agrelo’s documentary “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” was released in select U.S. cinemas. “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” which focused mainly on “Sesame Street’s” history from 1969 to the early 1990s, interviewed people who were “Sesame Street” employees from this time period, as well as some of the family members of principal “Sesame Street” employees who are now deceased. “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” takes a broader approach and includes the perspectives of not just past and present employees of “Sesame Street” but also several “Sesame Street” fans who are famous and not famous.
In addition, “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” (which was produced by Time Studios) makes a noteworthy effort to convey the global impact of “Sesame Street,” by including footage and interviews with people involved with the adapted versions of “Sesame Street” in the Middle East and in South Africa. “Sesame Street,” which is filmed in New York City, launched in 1969 on PBS. In the U.S., first-run episodes of “Sesame Street” began airing on HBO in 2016, and then on HBO Max in 2020. “Sesame Street” is now available in more than 150 countries.
“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” quickly breezes through how “Sesame Street” was conceived and launched. There are brief mentions of “Sesame Street” co-creators Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, but this documentary does not interview them. “Street Gang” has interviews with Ganz Cooney and Morrisett, who go into details about how they were inspired to create “Sesame Street” to reach pre-school kids, particularly African American children in urban cities, who had television as an electronic babysitter.
“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days,” just like “Street Gang” did, discusses that the concept behind “Sesame Street” was to have a children’s TV show with a racially integrated cast and puppets, which were called muppets. A lot of research went into creating the show before it was even launched. The intent of “Sesame Street” was for the show to be educational and entertaining.
But the creators also wanted “Sesame Street” to include real-life topics that weren’t normally discussed on children’s television at the time. For example, when actor Will Lee, who played “Sesame Street” character Mr. Hooper, died in 1982, “Sesame Street” had an episode that discussed Mr. Hooper dying. “Sesame Street” did not lie to the audience by making up a story that Mr. Hooper had moved away or was still alive somewhere.
Time For Kids editorial director Andrea Delbanco says, “Many people avoid the topics that they know are going to be lightning rods. ‘Sesame Street’ goes straight for it. And they handle each and every one of them with the amount of thoughtfulness and research and care that they require.”
David Kamp, author of “Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America,” mentions that one of the reasons for the longevity of “Sesame Street” is the show’s ability to adapt to changing times: “They’ll pivot. They’ll adjust. They’ll say, ‘We got it wrong. Now, we’re going to get it right.’ That’s one of [the show’s] great virtues.”
One of the noticeable differences seen in comparing these two “Sesame Street” documentaries is how racial diversity has improved for “Sesame Street” behind the scenes. “Street Gang,” which focused on the first few decades of “Sesame Street” shows that although the on-camera cast was racially diverse, behind the scenes it was another story: Only white people were the leaders and decision makers for “Sesame Street” in the show’s early years. Several current “Sesame Street” decision makers are interviewed in “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days,” and it’s definitely a more racially diverse group of people, compared to who was running the show in the first two decades of “Sesame Street.”
Sonia Monzano, an original “Sesame Street” cast member (her character is Maria), says that although the show has always had a racially diverse cast, the muppets are the “Sesame Street” characters that people remember the most. “I remember my first scene with [muppet character] Grover,” Monzano comments with a chuckle. “It took me a while to be comfortable, not try to upstage them. And that’s the same with kids. You give them the platform. Get out of their way.”
As memorable as the “Sesame Street” muppets are, the human characters on the show had a particular impact on children, who saw “Sesame Street” people who reminded them of their family members or neighbors. Several celebrities who are interviewed in the documentary grew up watching “Sesame Street”—including Lucy Liu, Rosie Perez, Olivia Munn and Questlove—and they talk about the importance of seeing their lives and experiences represented on the show.
Perez comments on the show’s racial diversity: “We needed to see that, because when you’re a little girl in Brooklyn watching ‘Sesame Street,’ it’s nice to know that when you opened your door and walked down your stoop, you had the same type of people on your television.” Perez says about “Sesame Street’s” Maria character: “She was my Mary Tyler Moore,” and that until Maria came along, “Desi Arnaz Jr. was our only [Hispanic TV] role model for years.”
Racism, social justice and AIDS are some of the topics that “Sesame Street” has openly discussed over the years, sometimes to considerable controversy. But one topic was apparently too much to handle in “Sesame Street’s” first year: divorce. In “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days,” it’s mentioned that the original pilot episode of “Sesame Street” had a segment about muppet character Mr. Snuffleupagus dealing with his parents’ divorce. The “Sesame Street” executives did a test screening of this episode with children.
“The kids freaked out” because the idea of divorce was too upsetting for them, says Time staff writer Cady Lang. And the episode was “tossed out.” The documentary has some of this unaired Mr. Snuffleupagus “divorce” footage. In the documentary, Martin P. Robinson, the puppeteer and original voice for Mr. Snuffleupagus, expresses disappointment that this decision was made to eliminate talk of divorce on the first “Sesame Street” episode, because he says it was a missed opportunity for “Sesame Street” to start off with an episode that would have been very cutting-edge at the time.
However, there would be plenty of other episodes that would rile up some people. It’s not mentioned in the “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” documentary, but it’s mentioned in the “Street Gang” documentary that TV stations in Mississippi briefly wouldn’t televise “Sesame Street” in 1970, because they said people in their communities thought the show’s content was inappropriate. They denied it had to do with the show having a racially integrated cast. But considering that Mississippi was one of the last U.S. states to keep laws enforcing racial segregation, it would be naïve to think that racism wasn’t behind the “Sesame Street” ban.
The topics of racism and race relations take up a lot of screen time in this “Sesame Street” documentary, but mostly as pertaining to a contemporary audience, not the “Sesame Street” audience of past decades. Black Lives Matter protests and the racist murders of George Floyd and other African Americans have been discussed on “Sesame Street.” And there has been a concerted effort to have all races represented on “Sesame Street,” for the human cast members as well as the muppets.
Roosevelt Franklin (the first African American muppet on “Sesame Street”) was on “Sesame Street” from 1970 to 1975, and was voiced and created by Matt Robinson. The “Sesame Street” documentary briefly mentions Roosevelt Franklin, but doesn’t go into the details that “Street Gang” did over why the character was removed from the show: A lot of African American parents and educators complained that Roosevelt Franklin played too much into negative “ghetto” stereotypes. In the “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” documentary, musician Questlove and TV host W. Kamau Bell mention that they have fond memories of watching Roosevelt Franklin on “Sesame Street” when they were kids.
Although most muppets aren’t really any race, some of have been created to be of a specific race or ethnicity. Some muppets look like humans, while others look like animals. For the human-looking muppets, there have been Asian, Hispanic and Native American muppets in addition to the muppets that are presented as white or black people. And the documentary also gives significant screen time to Mexican muppet Rosita, a character introduced in 1991, which is considered a role model to many, particularly to Spanish-speaking people. Carmen Osbahr, the puppeteer and voice of Rosita, is interviewed in the documentary.
The documentary features a Mexican immigrant family called the Garcias, including interviews with mother Claudia and her autistic daughter Makayla, who are the only U.S. citizens of the family members who live in the United States. The Garcias say they love watching “Sesame Street” for Rosita, because she represents so many American residents who are bilingual in Spanish and English. Claudia Garcia, who moved from Mexico to the United States when she was 12, comments in the documentary: “When I was 12, it was not cool to speak Spanish. Now, it [the ability to speak Spanish] is a super-cool thing that you have.”
Four other diverse muppet characters are the Walker Family, an African American clan that is intended to be a major presence in contemporary “Sesame Street” episodes. Elijah Walker (a meteorologist) and his underage son Wesley, also known as Wes, have already been introduced. The characters of Elijah’s wife Naomi (a social worker originally from the Caribbean) and Elijah’s mother Savannah were being developed at the time this documentary was filmed. The documentary includes concept art for Naomi and Savannah.
According to Social Impact U.S. vice president Rocío García, “The Walker Family is a new family we’re creating for the racial justice initiative [Coming Together].” Wes and Elijah are characters that are supposed to contradict the media’s constant, negative narrative that black males are problematic. “Sesame Street” producer Ashmou Young describes the Wes Walker character as “a happy, energetic, innocent child who loves reading and architecture.” Elijah is a positive, intelligent role model. And no, he does not have an arrest record.
Bradley Freeman Jr., the puppeteer for Wes Walker, says in the documentary how proud he is to be part of this character, which he knows can be a role model for all children. “I was bullied at school for being black. That’s something that can hurt you, and you don’t know how to talk about it.” In “Sesame Street,” Elijah and Wes candidly discuss race issues and what it means to be an African American.
Omar Norman and Alisa Norman, an African American married couple, are in the documentary with their two daughters and discuss how the Walker Family on “Sesame Street” means a lot to them. Elder daughter Macayla says it’s impactful when Elijah talks to Wes about racism and how being a black male means being more at risk of experiencing police brutality. Omar gets emotional and tries not to cry when he thinks about how it’s sadly necessary for these topics to be discussed on a children’s show.
All the muppet characters were designed to not only teach kids (and adults) about life but also show what the world is all about and how to cope with problems in a positive way. Chris Jackson (who’s known for his role in the original Broadway production of “Hamilton”) talks about writing the song “I Love My Hair,” which debuted on “Sesame Street” in 2010. The song was written for any girl muppet to sing, but it has special significance to black girls because of how black females are judged the harshest by what their hair looks like. Jackson says that after he wrote the song, he thought, “I think I just wrote a black girl’s superhero anthem,” which he knows means a lot to his daughter.
And if some people have a problem with “Sesame Street” supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, well, no one is forcing them to watch the show. Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice president of creative and production for Sesame Workshop, comments: “Following the murder of George Floyd, the company decided to make it a company-wide goal of addressing racial injustice [on ‘Sesame Street’].” U.S. first lady Dr. Jill Biden adds, “‘Sesame Street’ is rising up to he movement and addressing what’s going on and what kids are seeing and feeling around them.”
Wilson Stallings says, “We showed diversity, we showed inclusion, we modeled it through our characters. But you can’t just show characters of different ethnicities and races getting along. That was fine before. Now what we need to do is be bold and explicit.”
Sesame Workshop CEO Steve Youngwood comments on increasing “Sesame Street’s” socially conscious content: “We realized that nothing was hitting the moment the way it needed to be. And we pivoted to address it. The curriculum we developed is going to be groundbreaking, moving forward.”
LGBTQ representation on “Sesame Street” is still a touchy subject for people who have different opinions on what’s the appropriate age for kids to have discussions about various sexual identities. In 2018, former “Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman, who is openly gay, gave an interview saying that he always wrote muppet characters Ernie and Bert (bickering best friends who live together) as a gay couple. The revelation got mixed reactions. Frank Oz—the creator, original voice and puppeteer for Bert—made a statement on Twitter that Ernie and Bert were never gay.
Sesame Workshop responded with a statement that read: “As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach pre-schoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identifiable as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most ‘Sesame Street’ muppets do), they remain puppets, and have no sexual orientation.”
In retrospect, Sesame Workshop president Sherrie Westin says: “That denial, if you will, I think was a mistake.” She also adds that people can think of Ernie and Bert having whatever sexuality (or no sexuality) that they think Ernie and Bert have. As for LGBTQ representation on “Sesame Street,” Jelani Memory (author of “A Kid’s Book About Racism”) is blunt when he says: “It’s not enough.”
And it’s not just social issues that are addressed on “Sesame Street.” The show has also discussed health issues, such as the AIDS crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Although “Sesame Street” got pushback from some politically conservative people for talking about AIDS on the show, this criticism didn’t deter “Sesame Street,” which was supported by the majority of its audience for this decision. Dr. Anthony Fauci is in the documentary praising “Sesame Street” for helping educate people on health crises.
The documentary includes a segment on the first HIV-positive muppet Kami, a character in “Takalani Sesame,” the South African version of “Sesame Street.” Kami, who is supposed to be a 5-year-old girl, was created in 2002, in reaction to the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Her positive outlook on life and how she is accepted by her peers can be viewed as having an impact on people that’s hard to measure.
Marie-Louise Samuels, former director early childhood development at South Africa’s Department of Basic Education, has this to say about Kami: “It wasn’t about her getting some sympathy. It was really about how productive she is in society with the virus.” Even though Kami was well-received in South Africa, “the U.S. was not as receptive,” says Louis Henry Mitchell, creative director of character design at Sesame Workshop.
Also included is a segment on Julia, the first autistic muppet on “Sesame Street.” It’s a character that is near and dear to the heart of Julia puppeteer Stacey Gordon, who tears up and gets emotional when she describes her own real-life experiences as the mother of an autistic child. Julia is one of several muppet characters that represent people with special needs. As an autistic child of a Mexican immigrant family, Makayla Garcia says in her interview that Rosita and Julia are her favorite muppets because they represent who she is.
The documentary shows how “Sesame Street” is in Arabic culture with the TV series “Ahlan Simsim,” which translates to “Welcome Sesame” in English. The Rajubs, a real-life Syrian refugee family of eight living in Jordan, are featured in the documentary as examples of a family who find comfort in “Ahlan Simsim” even though they’re experiencing the turmoil of being refugees. David Milliband, CEO of International Rescue Committee, talks about how “Sesame Street” being a consistent presence in children’s lives can help them through the trauma.
Other people interviewed in the documentary include Shari Rosenfeld, senior VP of international at Social Impact; Elijah Walker puppeteer Chris Thomas Hayes; Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, senior vice president of education and research at Sesame Workshop; Dr. Sanjay Gupta; Peter Linz, voice of muppet character Elmo; “Sesame Street” actor Alan Muraoka; Nyanga Tshabalala, puppeteer for the mupppet character Zikwe on “Takalani Sesame”; and former “Ahlan Simsim” head writer Zaid Baqueen. Celebrity fans of “Sesame Street” who comment in the documentary include Usher, Gloria Estefan, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and John Oliver, who says about the show: “It was my first introduction to comedy, because it was so relentlessly funny.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCR) special envoy Angelina Jolie comments that The Count (the muppet vampire who teaches counting skills) is her favorite “Sesame Street” character: “He had a wonderfully bold personality: The friendly vampire helping you learn how to count. It worked for me.” Whoopi Goldberg adds, “All the things that ‘Twilight’ did for vampires, The Count did more. [The Count] made vampires cool because they could count.”
Jolie also comments on “Sesame Street’s” social awareness: “What they’re bringing is more relevant to today than ever.” The documentary includes 2021 footage of “Sesame Street” executives cheering when finding out that Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee won the MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural 100 and Change Award, a grant that gives the recipients $100 million over a maximum of six years.
There’s also a notable segment on the music of “Sesame Street.” Stevie Wonder (who has performed “123 Sesame Street” and “Superstition” on “Sesame Street”) performs in the documentary with a new version of the “Sesame Street” classic theme “Sunny Days.” The documentary has the expected montage of many of the celebrity guests who’ve been on “Sesame Street” too.
“United Shades of America” host Bell says that being asked to be on “Sesame Street” is a “rite of passage” for “famous people at a certain point. Got to get that ‘Sesame Street’ gig! That’s when you know you really made it: When ‘Sesame Street’ calls you.”
Although there’s a lot of talk about certain “Sesame Street” muppets, the documentary doesn’t give enough recognition to the early “Sesame Street” muppet pioneers who created iconic characters. The documentary briefly mentions Jim Henson (the creator and original voice of Kermit the Frog and Ernie), but Frank Oz (the creator and original voice of Grover, Cookie Monster and Bert) isn’t even mentioned at all.
Big Bird is seen but not much is said about Caroll Spinney, who was the man in the Big Bird costume from 1969 to 2018, and who was the creator and original voice of the Oscar the Grouch muppet. Spinney died in 2019, at the age of 85. Henson died in 1990, at age 53. Oz did not participate in the documentary.
The movie doesn’t mention the 2012 scandal of Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash resigning from “Sesame Street” after three men accused him of sexually abusing them when the men were underage teenagers. The three lawsuits against Clash with these accusations were dismissed in 2014. Clash had been the puppeteer and voice of Elmo since 1984.
“Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” tries to bite off a little more than it should chew when it starts veering into discussions about United Nations initiatives and how they relate to “Sesame Street.” There’s no denying the global impact of “Sesame Street,” but “Sesame Street” is a children’s show, not a political science show about international relations. And some viewers might be turned off by all the talk about social justice content on “Sesame Street.”
The documentary could have used more insight into the actual process of creating these memorable muppets. Except for some brief footage in a puppet-creating workspace, that artistic aspect of “Sesame Street” is left out of the documentary. Despite some flaws and omissions, the documentary is worth watching for people who want a snapshot of what’s important to “Sesame Street” in the early 2020s. Whereas “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” is very much about the show’s past, “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” tries to give viewers a glimpse into the show’s future.
ABC premiered “Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days” on April 26, 2021. Hulu premiered the documentary on April 27, 2021.