For many years, Animal Planet was like a dream come true. I could hardly believe that anyone had made a network just for us! There were experts representing a wide range of views, some I found brilliant, others completely misguided, but they were all interesting: serious and thoughtful people sharing information and ideas about animals. A huge portion of the programming assumed the viewers were intelligent and reasonably competent, and virtually all of the programming was animal positive. Occasionally the productions were slick, but almost always they were honest and interesting.
As time went by and APL sought to attract a broader audience, several things changed:
1. They stopped making shows for a knowledgeable audience. They needed to add shows for novice trainers, but why abandon programming that catered to advanced trainers? They seem even to have decided that a large portion of their programming needed to appeal to non-animal people. Because lots of them are going to watch Animal Planet?
2. They focused on the negative almost exclusively. “If it bleeds it leads” has never been truer than on APL. They have more shows about animal abuse than almost anything else. I can go sit down almost any time of the day or night and watch some officer buts some jerk who is starving/abusing/neglecting his animals. This is not animal programming—it is jerk TV. Yes, there are horrible people in the world who do horrible things to animals, but do we really need hour after hour focusing on them? Almost as often as animal abuse shows are animal attack shows either showing captive animals attacking people or hours and hours of predators killing prey.
3. They became extremely political and lopsided—essentially a propaganda machine for the animal rights perspective. Captivity is portrayed as “bad” on most of their programs, with very little effort to portray both sides or even an objective middle ground.
4. They traded information for drama. Genuinely “good” animal training is rarely dramatic. Truly gifted animal trainers are quiet effective leaders who use patience and gentle manipulation to create opportunities for animals to succeed, avoiding conflict, reading animals and reacting before most can even tell something is amiss. Drama arises only when we make stupid mistakes, poor decisions, or are in a hurry. I have spent hundreds of hours working with authentically talented animal experts working with a huge array of animals, and I can hardly recall a single moment that would have made good television. Most of the time there is very little visible action, only steady, quiet results. APL does not trust that the information on its own is interesting, so they create drama and conflict and cool music, and we get lots of fluff but no substance. Too bad, because the real APL audience is knowledgeable enough and interested enough that if you would just provide quality information they would love to watch.
5. They do not respect animal people. In the popular media I understand the desire to portray every animal lover as an eccentric nut who does not bathe, urinates on himself, dresses her dog in a tutu, is covered in hair, caries poop around in a fanny pack, is completely disconnected from normal human society, or otherwise amuses an average audience. But APL?? Come on guys, these are your viewers.
6. Whenever they do have a training show on, the training is completely simple or is truncated to the point of meaninglessness.
7. They became astonishingly anthropocentric—every wildlife show is filled with value judgments as though predators are evil.
Sadly, I almost never watch APL anymore. There are a few good animal or training shows on TV, but they are on other networks…