This isn’t exactly breaking news to those who know me, but truth be told, I’m all about the drama. I caught the bug early on – maybe around age 4 or 5? – and I’m officially going to give credit to my mother, who favored (and let me watch) ABC soaps. I can pretty much cite any story line that has aired since 1978, and this includes those from the now defunct Ryan’s Hope and Loving, nearly every marriage Erica Kane endured on All My Children, Cord and Tina on One Life to Live, the original Luke and Laura union on General Hospital, and plenty more.
I’m also a self-proclaimed reality-show junkie, and if you take those two fun facts and mix them together, you get my version of “You put peanut butter in my chocolate / you put chocolate in my peanut butter” – yes, Meerkat Manor is truly my little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup come to life! How could I not be a fan from the get-go? It’s got everything one could dream of: power struggles, backstabbing, scandalous affairs and more – all against a delicious, real-life backdrop.
Here’s the best part: it’s all with meerkats, which just have to be some of the coolest animals on the planet. I can’t decide who I relate to the most – the control freak in me is oh so very Flower, but then again, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any of the mischievous Mozart in my blood. Regardless, I’ll tell you what – when they stand on their hind legs poking their heads up, all like, “What’s that? What? What’s happening? What’s going on over there? You wanna start something? You got something to say?” – I mean, forget about it. I’m done. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours, meerkats. I’m yours.
If you’re like me, you’ve been jonesing for a fresh Meerkat fix since last season wrapped, and as luck would have it, we are about to get it tenfold. With the premiere of the first-ever Meerkat Manor movie on Animal Planet this weekend, along with a new season just around the corner, the forecast is clear: Mostly meerkat skies with a 100 percent chance of juicy drama. No time like the present to get the early dish from executive producer Mick Kaczorowski – enjoy!
Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins takes us back to the early days of Flower, who quickly became one of the most recognizable and loved meerkats from the series. Why do you think so many fans were drawn to Flower?
Flower won the hearts of the audience, because she demonstrated something we all look for in a great leader or mother. She was a great provider and protector. She was strong and decisive. She was a great teacher and she showed great affection for the members of her family. She also showed tough love when she needed to, as any mother or leader needs to sometimes. I think it was all these characteristic that made Flower an incredible pop icon. In the movie, you will see the journey she (took) to get to be the dominant female of the Whiskers and how she learned all these qualities growing up.
Would you say this is a dramatic film, a comedy, a thriller – or perhaps all of the above? What makes it so?
I would say the movie is a combination of all three. Flower's life story is an incredible journey, and I think you will have an opportunity to experience all the drama, tension and laughter of her life in this one film.
What are the some of the differences between presenting the meerkat story in a film format versus a weekly television series, both visually and from a narrative perspective?
Everything about the movie is bigger. We had the opportunity to make Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins with all the tools that you get to use making a feature film. We used helicopters, jibs and a full orchestra for the score, and it’s edited and written in a different way then the television series. This is something you can see when you watch The Making of Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins following the film. Because the film covers the birth of Flower to her rise to leader of the Whiskers, we weren't filming the actual Whiskers like we do in the television series. The entire movie uses "meerkats actors" playing the part of Flower and her family, except none of the meerkats are trained. We had to find meerkats that were the same ages as the (animals) in the story and follow them until we captured a scene that depicted an event that took place in Flower's life. I'm not sure (of the number) exactly, but about eight different meerkats play Flower through the film.
Can you tell us a little bit about the specials premiering after the movie?
The Science of Meerkat Manor and The Making of Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins celebrate the hard work that goes on behind the scenes of making a movie. We reveal some of the scientific work that goes on every day on the reserve, and you get to meet the scientist and volunteers that work with the meerkats on a daily basis. You also get to meet the filmmakers and the team who work to bring the story of Flower to the screen. Each film is told in the first person by the people working on location in the Kalahari during the making of the movie.
Speaking of the series, Meerkat Manor: The Next Generation is just around the corner, with the premiere on Friday, June 6, at 9 p.m. – can you give us any sneak peeks into the drama that takes place in the Kalahari this season?
I think it’s exciting because you will be meeting so many new characters and seeing stories and events that we have never shown before. It's almost like starting all over from the beginning; with the next generation being so young and inexperienced, we see a lot of new behavior and events that only happen when meerkats are struggling in the Kalahari as youthful leaders.
The new season also brings about a new narrator – stage and screen legend Stockard Channing. What was it like working with Stockard?
Stockard Channing is a great actress, and she has been great to work with. I think as a woman telling the next generation's story, she brings something different to Manor. She's funny and a bit sassy, and I think you will see and hear things this year in a very different way. I would say that there is a lot more humor this season, and Stockard definitely knows how to deliver a funny line. I find myself laughing out-loud when we work together, after she delivers her lines.
What are some of the most memorable moments you have from your experiences in the Kalahari seeing the meerkats up close and firsthand?
Seeing the meerkats in person, you can't believe how incredibly small they are. Because of the way we film them (on the ground from their angle), they fill the screen. The TV series makes them into giants, and in their world they are. You have to walk very carefully so that you don't step on them. You then realize that they are a very easy meal for many predators in the Kalahari and how hard a life they live to stay alive every day.
Tell us a little bit about how the meerkats are named.
The meerkats are first named by the scientist and researchers in the Kalahari. They observe hundreds of meerkats, so they go through a lot of names. They name the animals so that they can easily remember them during observation. Sometimes we change the names for the television series so they are easier to remember. It would be very hard to remember a family of meerkats with the same first letter name, or if they were all named after spices or characters from a Shakespearean play. We need to have recognizable names for television. Although the meerkats are always the same, we sometimes even change names from the U.K. version of Meerkat Manor (which is narrated by actor Bill Nighy), because I want the meerkats in our version of the series to have a relationship with an American audience.
You will meet many meerkats this year with popular names from the world of sports, music, TV and movies. We’ve done this in the past, such as with Flower's last daughter, Liz, who was named after Elizabeth Taylor, as she is a big fan of Meerkat Manor and a supporter of Fellow Earthlings, a meerkat sanctuary (just) outside Palm Springs, Calif., where you can sponsor a meerkat. Also, we named a meerkat after Denis Leary, because he mentioned Meerkat Manor and Shakespeare in his show Rescue Me.
Which meerkat do you think you are most like and why?
Besides Flower and Mozart, I will always be fond of courageous Shakespeare. This season I have a lot of new favorite meerkats, but I won't say anymore until you get a chance to see the series and watch the stories unfold!
Are you excited for the movie? What do you hope to see this season? Leave a comment and share your thoughts - and don't miss the premiere of Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins Sunday May 25 at 8pm E/P!