There’s a fictional veterinarian coming to NBC this fall who’s great with animals but can’t stand their owners—sound familiar? The new sitcom Animal Practice revolves around a New York veterinary hospital where George Coleman, DVM, played by Justin Kirk (known for his role on Showtime’s Weeds), has way more respect for patients than he does for clients.
“We interviewed a number a number of veterinarians around the Manhattan/Brooklyn area and got a lot of chuckles when we talked about Dr. Coleman’s nature,” says executive producer and writer Brian Gatewood. “They’d either be like ‘Oh, that’s like me’ or ‘Oh, that’s like all of my vet friends.’”
Gatewood and another executive producer and writer, Alex Tanaka, asked veterinary staff members about daily life in practice and what it means to be a veterinarian. They also encouraged staff members to tell all and divulge some of their more interesting cases and encounters with clients. The two reached out to veterinary hospitals to gather research and material because the whole premise of the show stemmed from a trip to a clinic.
“I have two cats and I came back from the vet one day and I said to Alex, ‘Why has there never been a show about a veterinarian?’” Gatewood says. He later found out that many networks have tried, but none of the shows have made it out of the development stage—until now.
In the half-hour comedy, viewers will see that Coleman has an unorthodox style of operating Crane Animal Hospital. Problems arise when the Dorothy Crane, played by JoAnna Garcia (Royal Pains, Reba), comes back to take over the family business. She’s Coleman’s new boss and ex-girlfriend, so her romantic history with him mixed with her lack of experience with animals seriously cramps his style—which includes poker games with a resident monkey, played by a capuchin named Crystal.
“Crystal’s never played a doctor before, so we’re looking forward to this,” says the monkey’s trainer, Tom Gunderson of Agua Dulce, Calif. “Everybody took to Crystal right away. They were very respectful and came up to me and said, ‘Should we do introductions? What’s the best way to work around her?’”
Gunderson would know—he’s worked with Crystal for the past 16 years on more than 20 movies, including The Hangover Part 2, Dr. Dolittle, Night at the Museum, We Bought a Zoo, The Zoo Keeper and American Pie. Crystal has also appeared on dozens of television shows, including Community, Scrubs and Frasier. On Animal Practice Crystal plays Coleman’s friend, partner in crime and right-hand … primate.
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“It will be a good opportunity to expand her experience because she’s going to get to work with a lot of different animals,” Gunderson says. (Click here to learn five facts you didn't know about Crystal.)
Needless to say, Crane Animal Hospital isn’t your average veterinary clinic. In the pilot, the clinic is packed with cats, pythons, turtles, chickens, an iguana, a penguin, a pig and a Bengal tiger. Gatewood thought it might be a hectic with so many different species on set, but he says the animals created a very serene vibe. With the help of Animal and Birds Unlimited and many animal specialists, they were actually wrapping up their shooting days earlier than anticipated. Gunderson says the animals’ well-being always comes first. He makes sure Crystal and the other animal actors are comfortable mentally and physically safe from harm.
“We want [the show] to be a celebration of animals,” Gatewood says. “My dad was a cardiologist and I spent a lot of time in hospital environments. I think doctors are fascinating people and I have a tremendous amount of respect for them—both human and animal doctors.”
The show also stars Tyler Labine (Reaper, Sons of Tucson) as Doug Jackson, DVM; Bobby Lee (Harold and Kumar) as Yamamoto, DVM; and newcomer Betsy Sodaro as Angela, a veterinary technician.
“We have a terrific supporting cast, all these great comedians, and when you put them with such a fine actor like Justin Kirk—who’s really taken the part of George Coleman and given it a life that neither Brian or I could have imagined—it just makes for a great prime-time comedy,” Tanaka says.
The Animal Practice writers say that the hero of the show is an animal doctor, so they think real veterinarians are going to be pleased. However, they do have one request.
“I hope that veterinarians allow us some artistic liberties because it’s a half-hour show and we want it be fun,” Gatewood says. At the end of the day, it’s a show by and for animal lovers, Tanaka adds.
Animal Practice will premiere on NBC Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central.