Apparently the power of Joe Exotic can be denied. “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” the controversial Netflix docuseries that centered on the big cat enthusiast, amateur zoo owner, singer, one-time presidential hopeful and now prison inmate, was shut out at the 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
The biggest prize for which it was nominated was the documentary or nonfiction series Emmy, which was handed out on the final night of Creative Arts ceremonies, Saturday, Sept. 19. It lost that award to ESPN’s “The Last Dance.”
“Tiger King” was nominated for five other awards, all of which were handed out earlier in the week, and all of which went to other nominees. Those categories were documentary/nonfiction directing, nonfiction picture editing, documentary series or special music composition (original dramatic score), nonfiction or reality program sound editing (single or multi-camera), nonfiction or reality program sound mixing, and documentary or nonfiction series (single or multi-camera).
“Tiger King,” which was directed by Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode, captured the country by storm when it launched on Netflix in March. With millions of people newly confined to their homes due to the spreading coronavirus pandemic and “shelter in place” advisories that turned into long-term quarantine situations, the rivalry between Joe Exotic (real name: Joseph Maldonado-Passage) and fellow big cat enthusiast/zoo owner Carole Baskin, “Tiger King’s” seven hours provided the perfect distraction and entertainment from real-world worries. It was so popular, it remained in the streamer’s Top 10 series for weeks after its launch, spawned a one-off interview special, a comic book and a couple of scripted projects starring Nicolas Cage and Kate McKinnon, and most recently resulted in Baskin getting a gig as a celebrity contestant on “Dancing With The Stars.”
But “Tiger King” also came with complaints from animal welfare groups and new energy surrounding the Big Cat Public Safety Act (HR1380). Critics, including Variety‘s own Caroline Framke, also called out the docuseries for its salacious bent and focus on the wild true crime elements of Exotic’s alleged murder plot against Baskin, rather than conservation and true advocacy — for animals or the plight of the workers at Exotic’s “zoo.”
In April, after “Tiger King” had been dominating conversations and social media for a few weeks already, Framke wrote that the series “meanders from story to story, making the audience stare in slack-jawed wonder at the characters it’s portraying as if they’re also feral animals in a zoo. … If the series was ever supposed to be about the exploitation of captive animals in the United States, it abandoned that mission within 10 minutes of meeting Joe Exotic, whose explicit goal in life was to get famous at all costs — and now, thanks to ‘Tiger King’ and the constantly churning news cycle surrounding it, he is.”
“Tiger King’s” Emmy nominations did not come as much of a surprise, given how top-of-mind the project was as the eligibility window closed and voting began. Although months passed since then, it was still much talked-about leading up to final round voting, especially through Twitter moments when “Tiger King” fans thought (or simply hoped) President Donald Trump’s cryptic announcement about pardoning a “very important person” was about Exotic (Exotic’s legal team has subsequently sent a formal, 250-plus page request for a pardon), and with Baskin not only appearing on “Dancing With The Stars” but also announcing an upcoming series about animal exploitation.