Television network Animal Planet Canada has abruptly canceled upcoming episodes of the scandal-tainted reality show Call of the Wildman just days before a new season was scheduled to air, Mother Jones has learned. The show, which follows the antics of the Kentucky animal wrangler known as Turtleman, has come under intense scrutiny after a series of Mother Jones investigative reports exposed mistreatment and neglect of animals—a drugged zebra, dying baby raccoons, a stricken coyote—and possible legal violations by the production. The revelations sparked outrage among fans, gave rise to petitions calling for the show to be canceled, and have led to multiple federal and state investigations.
The Animal Planet Canada team made the programming decision after a meeting on Wednesday to "review our spring programming lineup," according to a statement emailed to Mother Jones by Jodi Cook, a spokeswoman for Bell Media, the parent company of Animal Planet Canada. Cook suggested that the show was canceled due to a lack of popularity among viewers:
Call of the Wildman has not been resonating with Canadian audiences and the decision was made not to move forward with Season 3 this month as previously announced. We will be replacing that title with content that is more in line with other programming that’s performing well with our Canadian viewers. There are no plans to return Call of the Wildman to our schedule at this time.
The program—touted as a "hit series" in a recent press release from the network—appeared to resonate with fans who visited Animal Planet Canada's website as recently as last week: "Call of the Wildman is the best show ever. Please, please, please start a new season in 2014. If you don't, I will never watch animal planet ever again," read one of several similar comments posted. Another commenter said: "I want new turtle man for 2014. My kids love him and ask everyday when is a new one coming on. Please tell me that it coming on soon."
Season three of Call of the Wildman had been scheduled to return to Canadian airwaves on April 7 at 8pm, according to a March 4 press release posted on the company's website: "Animal Planet’s hit series Call of the Wildman returns for a third 'snapperlicious' season with 10 brand-new episodes." As of late Wednesday, however, that press release had been scrubbed of any reference to the show.
Bell Media did not respond to follow-up questions about the decision, including whether or not Mother Jones' reporting and the subsequent public outcry had played into dropping the show.
While it's not unheard of for television schedules to change last-minute, "nobody wants to have that kind of change in a release date that close to anything," said Paul Dergarabedian, a television and film industry analyst for Rentrak, a media research firm. Given the associated marketing costs, such last-minute changes are likely to be "cause for a bit of a stomach ache on the part of executives." Amanda Lotz, a media scholar at the University of Michigan, agreed that the move would be financially and logistically undesirable; in this case she speculates that the decision was probably driven by worries about a larger cost: "My suspicion would be that there's ample concern about the negative publicity" that Animal Planet would face, she said, if it went ahead with the new season.