“The Zoo” debuted on Animal Planet in February with 1.1 million viewers tuning in to get a glimpse into the life of the animals at the Bronx Zoo and the interactions with their caretakers.
The subsequent seven episodes averaged more than 1 million viewers, making it Animal Planet's most-watched freshman series since July 2015.
And the “Boogie Down” Bronx Zoo is just getting started! Animal Planet gave the green light to 10 more episodes of “The Zoo,” which will give fans a chance to learn about different animals, meet new zoo staff members and follow up on season 1 favorites.
Animal Planet “The Zoo” Season 2
Executive Vice President of Zoos and Aquarium at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Executive Director of WCS’s Bronx Zoo Jim Breheny was a cast member in the first season of “The Zoo.”
The show isn’t scripted, so it isn’t “reality TV” in that sense (also, the “cat fights” are between actual cats and not the real housewives of the Bronx). The Bronx Zoo tells Animal Planet what is expected that day in terms of animal care, events or procedures like physical therapy for a snow leopard with muscle issues.
Often times, the animals have their own plans.
“Interestingly, when we got the word that we were going to do season 2, and we looked at what aired [in season 1], 70 to 75 percent of what aired wasn’t what was planned,” Breheny explained.
When a new challenge or opportunity arises, Breheny said the zoo calls the show’s producers, and a new storyline is born.
“We partially had one story that I hope makes it in season 2; we have a local conservation story featuring hellbenders, which are one of the largest salamanders in the world,” Breheny said.
So far, this time around, Animal Planet was there for the creation of an exhibit for slender horn gazelles and shot some film of lemurs.
“We’ve just started filming, so it’s too early to say exactly what we’ll see in season 2, but the animals and stories we’ve covered so far are just the tip of the iceberg,” Animal Planet Executive Producer Lisa Lucas teased.
“The learning and perfecting never stop,” Lucas added, “but I think we found the right balance of story and information. Our goal is to do more of the same, even better, with a lot more animals. We may also catch up with some favorite animals from season 1!”
The Bronx Zoo After Season 1
There have been some changes to the Bronx Zoo since the first season.
“It’s created more of a dialogue between the visitors and zoo staff,” Breheny said. “So many of us are recognized from the show, and people have been so warm and complimentary and telling us what their favorite episode is and why.”
What’s his favorite episode?
“Everything is my favorite when I’m talking about it,” Breheny said with a laugh.
Breheny continued to say he really enjoyed the tiger storyline and the episode when they released the spray toad to Tanzania.
Breheny told us he gets a chuckle out of visitors who make it a game to meet staff members they saw in the show, coupled with the appreciation that has grown for the relationships between the zookeepers and the animals for whom they care.
“The Zoo” also provided a “real morale booster," he added.
Instead of focusing on a handful of characters, the debut episode alone featured at least 60 Bronx Zoo employees.
“[The show has] done a lot for morale at the zoo, and it’s done a lot for morale in aquariums and zoos across the country,” Breheny said. “Almost every day, we get an email or letter from someone in the country giving feedback, and from our colleagues, it’s been positive.”
Breheny said it’s really nice for the staff to hear how much everyone loved the first season, but it’s most surprising every time he hears someone say, “Thank you for doing the show.” Many families Breheny said he’s spoken to at the zoo would watch “The Zoo” at 10 p.m on Saturdays or DVR it to watch on Sunday with the whole family.
Animal Planet Shows You Layers
Lucas, who was also the executive producer for Animal Planet’s recently premiered show “Raised Human,” said the cool access to the behind-the-scenes action could be its own show, but “The Zoo” takes it further.
“There’s another layer that’s resonating: the relationship between keepers and the animals in their care. These people aren’t actors and the animals are unpredictable, so it’s never clear where their stories will go,” she said, “but in the end, what emerges are genuine, relatable stories that can be happy or heartbreaking or anything in between.
“And it’s not just familiar, showy animals you’d expect to be featured – some of the most memorable stories in season 1 are about animals you’ve probably never seen before. So, I’d like to think we’re feeding hearts and minds at the same time.”
“We really kind of set out to kind of change the conversation on zoos; rather than try to preach to people, our strategy was to kind of show people, and I think people just really responded well to the way the show is filmed and represented, and they see it as really real and genuine,” the director of the Bronx Zoo told us. “And again, [fans of the show] often express the passion and care that the staff has and feels for the animals.”
Breheny also said he was surprised by some of the other comments the zoo staff heard after season 1, especially when it comes to how people personally relate to the animals’ stories.
“The story where we had to euthanize the snow leopard, it could have been potentially controversial,” Breheny recalled. “People wrote in and said it taught them a lesson on how to deal with their own pets in that situation.
“One person even said they realize they went too far with their own pets because of their own feelings and needs, and they weren’t considering what was best for the animal, so they took that away as a lesson.
“It’s really nice to know you’re having an impact on people’s lives and thinking.”
Catch up with season 1 of “The Zoo” during a marathon on July 9 starting at 3 p.m. on Animal Planet. As a bonus, some of the stories have been updated, so you get an extra early peek inside the “The Zoo” after season 1!