Pity the poor human actors of NBC’s upcoming comedy Animal Practice. They have to share their scenes with a monkey. And not just any monkey. Crystal has already earned big laughs in Hangover 2 and TV’s Community. She’s a veteran at scene stealing. Act opposite an adorable, pint-sized, furry-faced co-star and you might as well be invisible.
It happens all the time on TV. Even the human stars of hit shows sometimes take a back seat to their animal sidekicks. And heaven forbid the show is actually ABOUT the animal. Then your job becomes more about not making the star animal mad. Because, as they say, animals attack. And they have equally vicious agents.
Here’s a few of the more memorable scene-stealing TV critters:
MR. ED (1961-1966) – A horse is a horse, of course. But Mr. Ed was exceptional. And I’m not just talking about the voice (which sounded like cowboy star Alan “Rocky” Lane). Mr. Ed had attitude. And skills – stealing pretty much all the scenes in this lame comedy, and even hitting a homer off baseball legend Sandy Koufax! You don’t want to laugh, but you will:
FRED THE BIRD (BARETTA, 1975-1978) – Volatile star Robert Blake used to curse when talk show hosts would ask him about his sidekick cockatoo. And who can blame him? All that bird did was sit there and eat food from Blake’s shoulder. Still, it did soften the character of undercover cop Baretta. Hey – he’s a tough guy, but he loves birds. So he must be okay:
TACO BELL DOG (1997- 2000) –Yo Quiero Taco Bell! The Spanish-accented Chihuahua – played originally by Dinky, then Gidget – was so big-eared and tiny, who could resist his charms? Chihuahua adoptions soared; Taco Bell sales not so much. Eventually, protests over cultural stereotyping led to its cancellation. Here, that darn dog takes on Godzilla in a Taco Bell/movie tie-in:
ARNOLD ZIFFEL (GREEN ACRES, 1965-1971) – In a show built on absurd characters, Arnold The Pig was the sane one. Treated like a son by the Ziffel family, Arnold was a versatile pig who painted, romanced a Bassett Hound, and delivered newspapers. Though played by several pigs, the original Arnold was buried with trainer Frank Inn and now resides at Hollywood’s Forest Lawn Cemetery with Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson:
FLIPPER (1964-1966) – I think there were other humans in this watery family drama, but I can’t remember them. All anyone remembers is Flipper – played by several female dolphins – and that funny, staccato laugh. Flipper didn’t really do all that much beyond the laugh, but that seemed to be enough for folks to keep watching for three seasons:
EDDIE (FRASIER, 1993-2004) – Much like Baretta and that darn bird, Frasier fans preferred Jack Russell Eddie to the human characters – who weren’t half as cool or smart. Eddie – played by a dog named Moose – was silent but hilarious, with the biggest laughs involving him just leaving a scene in disgust. Frasier may have won Emmys but Eddie got the love:
MORRIS THE CAT (1974- ) – He was a commercial pitch cat who became a TV star. Most folks probably don’t know the name of the product Morris’ advertised (9Lives cat food). But they remember the world-weary cat who didn’t give a crap. Voiced by John Erwin, Morris became a celebrity, which only added to that finicky attitude:
GENTLE BEN (1967-1969) – Like Flipper, there were adults on this show, but I only remember the big ole bear being led around by little kid Clint Howard. He didn’t do all that much on the show. He made funny noises, walked around slowly, and stood on his hind legs. And the bear was pretty talented too (Ha!):
LASSIE (1954-1973) –The all-time biggest animal act in Hollywood. The collie – original played by Pal, a female – began as a movie star, then moved to TV in several incarnations across decades. The show still gets revived periodically. Lassie is part of pop culture – his rescue of accident-prone owner Timmy a much-loved point of parody. Here’s one that poses the question – what if Lassie the dog had been a cat like Morris: