Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Will NBC be able to get the monkey off its back at these TCAs? If the fact that today’s panel on the new comedy series Animal Practice featured a live monkey “doctor” wearing tiny scrubs and driving a miniature ambulance is any indication, the answer is a resounding no. The driver was Crystal, the female capuchin monkey who portrays the show’s Dr. Rizzo, sidekick to veterinarian George Coleman (Justin Kirk). Crystal’s credits include The Hangover Part II and the Night At The Museum movies. She cruised onto the stage the near the end of the panel, her mini-ambulance siren blaring and lights flashing, and waved her little hand.
During this morning’s executive session, NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt lauded his beleaguered network for being “No. 3” (that is, not rock-bottom at No. 4) among adults 18-49. But the executive also admitted (with understatement) that NBC is “in a transition with our comedy programming” and said that new comedies, including Animal Practice, are aimed at broadening the comedy audience beyond that of its critically acclaimed but low-rated comedies including Community and Parks And Recreation. But both for Greenblatt and the producers of Animal Practice, today’s question has been: How broad is too broad? (Greenblatt had enough of a sense of humor to take the podium again to quote some of today’s mocking TCA tweets, including: “We’re proud to be No. 3, and we have a monkey!”)
The show’s executive producers said — predictably — that the show would not cross the line despite the presence a monkey regular in an ensemble cast that includes Kirk, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Kym Whitley, Bobby Lee, Tyler Labine and Betsy Sodaro.
Executive producer Scot Armstrong (who worked with Crystal when he was a writer on The Hangover Part II) called Animal Practice “a great opportunity to do a fresh take on what a workplace comedy can be that also has animals in it, too.” Armstrong added that there’s definitely a line where there’s too much icing on the cake.”
Also on the dais were executive producers Anthony Russo, Alessandro Tanaka, Brian Gatewood and Gail Lerner. Russo said the show’s creative team is “very conscious” of the fact that it’s easy to go too broad with a virtual zoo of animals in the mix, but they intend to produce a “smart, grounded comedy” without succumbing to the temptation to be “out-of-this-world outlandish.”
Tanaka said the show will “stay true to personal relationships, I don’t’ think we’re going to go off into Broadsville. It’s so easy to say: ‘Why don’t we just have dog keep tap dancing?’ At the end of the say, this is going to be a real animal hospital.”
Then the monkey drove onto the stage.
(Photos: Getty Images)