Monday, Aug. 30, 2004 | 8:17 a.m.
Featuring sumptuous computer animation, the new NBC series "Father of the Pride" is certainly appealing to the eye.
And with a backdrop of Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden, along with a menagerie of ironic-but-lovable animal characters, the show, which premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday on KVBC Channel 3, seems a natural to be a curiosity for kids.
But "Father of the Pride" isn't suitable for children.
Unless, of course, you consider references to sex acts and bestiality OK for younger ears.
Clouding the issue is that "Father of the Pride" is from DreamWorks Animation, the same studio behind the successful "Shrek" films a familial tie NBC uses to promote the show.
Johnathan Groff, executive producer and writer for the series, said the adult nature of "Father of the Pride" has always been clear.
"The promos have said, 'From the producers of "Shrek," an adult comedy.' NBC has been very aggressive in positioning that," Groff said. "It's not R-rated, it's PG or whatever the network equivalent is for that.
"(NBC is) an adult network with a core audience of 18-49. They are the network of 'Will and Grace,' which is very adult, and 'Scrubs' and 'Friends' and 'Joey.'"
Still, NBC didn't get the word out about the show's mature themes to advertisers when the network screened clips of "Father of the Pride" at its sales presentation earlier this summer.
The show wasn't well received, either.
"The animated series was in far worse shape" than Horn, industry analyst Jack Myers (a Peabody Award-winning media critic) opined in a newsletter, referring to Roy Horn, who is recovering from a near-fatal tiger mauling and subsequent stroke.
Groff said much of the problem was in the clips the network chose, which weren't complete and weren't properly packaged.
It also didn't help that NBC showed a new video of Siegfried and Roy to promote the show. It was the public's first look at Horn since the attack, and his surprise appearance seemed to overshadow the series itself.
"In showing the Siegfried and Roy tape that day, it felt like (the network) was raising a question that nobody was asking," Groff said. "Jeff Zucker (head of NBC entertainment) said they over-thought it terms of addressing that issue.
"What people really needed to know is, is this funny and these are the people behind it, that this show is a way for people to keep (Siegfried and Roy's) legacy."
"Father of the Pride" revolves around Larry (John Goodman), the star white lion in Siegfried and Roy's show, and his family: Kate ("Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Cheryl Hines), curmudgeonly father-in-law Sarmoti (Carl Reiner) and two cubs, 15-year-old daughter Sierra (Danielle Andrea Harris) and 9-year-old son Hunter (Daryl Sabara).
Also featured are Larry's best friend, a gopher by the name of Snack (Orlando Jones) and Siegfried and Roy, who are voiced by Julian Holloway ("My Uncle Silas") and David Herman ("Office Space"), respectively.
Of course, after the attack on Horn and subsequent closing of the long-running "Siegfried & Roy" show, some questioned whether a TV show centered on the illusionists and their animals should still air.
But Bernie Yuman, longtime manager of Siegfried and Roy, said scuttling "Father of the Pride" was never considered.
"After the accident, Jeffrey Katzenberg, DreamWorks, Jeff Zucker at NBC, Siegfried and myself, we focused on one thing and one thing only, and that was Roy's survival and his imminent recovery," Yuman said.
"As far as 'Father of the Pride' is concerned, it's had a life of its own for 2 1/2 years. We're only 10 3/4 months into the period after Roy's accident and 'Father of the Pride' has been on track long before that."
Groff said, as far as he knew, production of "Father of the Pride" was never in danger of being halted.
"Everybody took a wait-and-see attitude. Everyone focused on Roy pulling through," he said. "We just kept working on (the show). It was a strange time for a while, (but) we kept moving ahead in the event that everything worked out.
"If we hadn't kept moving, we wouldn't have made the air, especially given the lead time" necessary to produce the animated series.
The brainchild of DreamWorks Animation honcho Katzenberg, a friend of the illusionists who first conceived of an animated show from the point of view of their animals, "Father of the Pride" has been in the works for nearly 2 1/2 years.
A total of 13 episodes have been ordered for this season, and NBC has ordered an additional nine scripts for next season.
At a reported cost of $2 million per episode, the network is banking significantly on the popularity of the series.
Still, the odds of the show's success are stacked heavily against it.
"The history of any show in any format is basically 85 percent of them crash and burn in their first season," said Earle Marsh, co-author of "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows."
"It doesn't matter what it is. The mortality rate is very high."
Nevertheless, Matt Roush, chief critic of TV Guide, who has seen "Father of the Pride," predicts the show will open to big numbers.
"Given the Olympic hype (for the show) and momentum NBC is on, and that the state of TV comedy right now is so depressing, it's possible this show will find an audience just because expectations for comedy nowadays are so low," Roush said.
His overall opinion of the show is also rather low: "looks great, less filling" and "if bite equals wit, then this show is toothless."
Given the high expectations of the series by the network -- not to mention the cost to create the show -- Roush doesn't predict a second season.
"I think it will have trouble going past the 13 originally done," he said. "I think it will either be an out-of-the-gate hit or a quick fade. I don't see it hanging in there and doing so-so business. There's too much invested with it."
What could work in the show's favor is the curiosity factor, given Siegfried and Roy's involvement in the show as co-executive producers.
Groff said the illusionists were consulted as the show was being developed and that he and other writers were also invited to Roy's home to learn more about their lives with the animals.
"Jeffrey has a great relationship with them, they trust him a lot. And he trusts us," Groff said. "They had involvement and were always involved and consulted. Their only stipulation was they really love these animals and that everything they do comes from a love of animals."
That love, however, might go too far for some viewers' taste, such as one scene in the pilot episode in which Siegfried coats himself with animal pheromone spray designed to put animals in heat, mistakenly believing it to be cologne.
The joke plays out as several animals are shown lining up to take their turn cuddling up with the illusionist.
While Siegfried and Roy most often are used as comic relief, Yuman said his clients are fine with their slapstick portrayal.
"Siegfried and Roy have always taken their work very, very seriously," he said. "(But) this is all about satire, this is all about fun, this is all about making people laugh. This is a comedy."