NEW YORK —
The kittehs are placed on the set, which is outfitted with a circus-like jungle gym of scratching posts, hidey-holes, blowing tinsel, wagging toys, gyrating toys, rotating toys and a blast of catnip. Despite the performance-enhancing drugs, the cats are subdued.
"Cat fishing ain't going so hot today, guys," says one of the 13 volunteers tasked with entertaining the cats with fishing-rod toys. No one's biting, it seems.
One particularly spunky cat bursts out of a tube in the gymnasium. "Tell your friends how to do that — you're good!"
Most of the cats are more interested in the camera than the toys, though one black-and-white kitty with a Groucho Marx moustache treats the AstroTurf like a scratching post. For the grand finale, a glittering rain of confetti blows onto the set, bewildering the cats and settling on the backs of the camera staff.
After 45 minutes of filming, the kittens are getting tired.
"They're so adorable," coos one volunteer.
There have been other attempts at offering counterprogramming during the Super Bowl, the most-watched television event of the year, but none have persevered like Puppy Bowl. Even the Lingerie Bowl, which aired on pay-per-view, was only staged for three Super Bowls (2004 to 2006).
Puppy Bowl has sprouted puppy mania: There are Puppy Bowl parties and Twitter trending topics. Snooki and Zooey Deschanel puppy-tweet as they watch. And this year, for the first time, Geico bought the naming rights to the Puppy Bowl stadium.
How do you make cute even cuter without being too cute — if there is such a thing as too cute? That's the challenge for Animal Planet each year.
"It's hard not to want to keep adding other cute elements to this," said Toporoff. "It's more about pulling it back in and figuring out which one are we going to go with. There are just so many cute fuzzy things out there."