After streaming giant Netflix premiered its new docuseries “Dogs” in 2018, executive producer Glen Zipper recalls receiving a lot of love on social media from canine moms and dads — but he was also on the receiving end of irate tweets pressing for a companion show about cats. Three years later, as he prepares to launch the long-awaited second season of “Dogs” alongside the debut of new docuseries “Cat People,” Zipper hopes there will be balance and peace among pet parents.
“Our message [is], ‘Why can’t we love both?'” Zipper tells Variety.
Still, it was a long and often uneven road to get these series ready to stream. While the first season of “Dogs” was proof of concept for Zipper and executive producer Amy Berg, who wanted to lean into “happy” tales (no pun intended) about man’s (and woman’s) best friend, the outcry of interest in a show about cats on social media sparked the idea for Zipper that such a show should be a natural followup. But although Zipper says he loves dogs and cats equally — and had ample experience working with animal shelters prior to producing — he admits he couldn’t initially crack an idea for a show about cats.
“Making a show about cats was going to be more difficult because cats, let’s face it, are far less cooperative,” he says. “Dogs engage with the camera in a way that cats don’t and we need the dogs to really pop with personality. We’re looking for those superstar dogs. With ‘Cat People,’ cats are going to be more standoffish — it’s their world we’re just living in it — and we’re going to have to catch as catch can with the magic moments that the cats are willing to offer us.”
It took Sandi Tan, who executive produces and also directs “Cat People,” to help him get there. She approached Zipper with an idea for a series about cats — one that he notes was a “much more artistic” concept than the docuseries “Cat People” ended up being. “It was going to have animation, it was going to be theme-based, it was going to be like David Lynch meets cats,” he explains. Although he liked that concept and says they may still do it someday, they weren’t quite ready yet so he scaled back some of the ideas, decided to focus on the people who love cats while still making sure there wasn’t a frame of footage that didn’t feature a feline friend in it and brought Tan onto his version of the show for now.
“If Marvel has Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, I guess there’s a Glen Zipper extended animal universe of phases for me, and that show that Sandi was cooking up really feels more like a Phase 2 or 3 show,” he says.
Since Zipper saw the human counterparts as the way into “Cat People,” casting became extra crucial. Not only did he want the tone of that show to be a bit more humorous than “Dogs,” which required a certain levity around who was brought into the show, he also wanted to shoot down the “unfairly negative stereotype of what it means to be cat people,” he says.
Balancing those two things could be a tall order on their own, but he also threw some celebrity into the mix, most notably with renowned cat rapper Moshow on “Cat People” and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin on “Dogs.”
“That was just a silver lining to us,” Zipper says of finding people who had already gone viral to be a part of the shows. “It was definitely not a priority to feature anyone that was an influencer. We were looking for surprising, exciting, fun and funny stories to tell.”
Netflix greenlit a second season of “Dogs” in 2019. Zipper and his team began working on the four-episode season before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which meant production pauses really only affected the final episode. Entitled “The Protectors,” the last episode of Season 2 follows a priest’s mission to care and find homes for stray dogs on the streets of Brazil. “Cat People,” by contrast, was also greenlit ahead of the pandemic but its six episodes were made almost entirely during it.
“I became a COVID compliance officer myself to make sure that we were on top of everything, and everybody just worked twice as hard and we powered through it,” Zipper says, noting they had to adjust how they did certain things but that they did not have to compromise what they did for safety regulations. “Once we were in the midst of the pandemic we were so eager and anxious to get the stories out to the world because it’s that salve that we’re all looking for — we all want to have these happy and joyful stories now.”
The different episode order, Zipper says, was not due to the pandemic but rather because each episode of the hourlong “Dogs” is “really close to making a feature film” with how “intensive” they are, he explains. “With ‘Cat People,’ because we thought that 30 minutes is a better format for the type of show we were telling, it’s easier to to knock off six of those, pandemic or no pandemic.”
While they were in production, Zipper admits he and Berg both clocked how the pandemic was affecting people’s willingness to adopt animals across the country and the world. “Certainly when we saw the animal shelters emptying out, we spitballed about what we might be able to do around that [in an episode],” Zipper says. But at the end of the day, they opted not to include that narrative in either show. “A lot of it had already happened by the time that we came around to talking about what an episode or even like a short form thing about that might look like. And what’s special about these ‘Dogs’ episodes and ‘Cat People’ episodes is, you see the whole journey — you see it from beginning to end — and when you’re entering in the middle, or in the third act, then that’s not really what the shows are about. And so, that’s why ultimately we decided not to go in that direction.”
The message about the importance of adopting animals and providing them homes filled with unconditional love is something that still sings out loudly in the second season of “Dogs,” as well as in “Cat People,” though. In addition to “The Protectors” episode of “Dogs” Season 2, “It Takes a Village Dog” is another episode dedicated to the importance of finding the right home for a canine, centering on a veteran determined to bring a puppy she finds in Iraq home to the U.S. with her. In “Cat People,” an episode entitled “God’s Little People” is set at a cat sanctuary on the Greek island of Syros.
“Whatever we can do from our position to support animals [and] encourage people to give these animals a second or a third chance, we’ll do it,” Zipper says.
“Dogs” Season 2 and “Cat People” Season 1 premiere July 7 on Netflix.