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Puppy Bowl packs pounds of cute

Alternative to Super Bowl started ‘adorable’ genre nine years ago

  • This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows the Kitty half time show during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. The show provides national exposure to the shelters across the country that provide the puppy athletes and the kittens that star in the halftime show, and introduces viewers to the different breeds and animals that need homes, animal workers say. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)

    This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows the Kitty half time show during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. The show provides national exposure to the shelters across the country that provide the puppy athletes and the kittens that star in the halftime show, and introduces viewers to the different breeds and animals that need homes, animal workers say. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)

  • This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows dogs playing on the field during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. Dogs score touchdowns on a 10-by-19-foot gridiron carpet when they cross the goal line with a toy. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)

    This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows dogs playing on the field during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. Dogs score touchdowns on a 10-by-19-foot gridiron carpet when they cross the goal line with a toy. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)

  • Dan Schachner plays an enthusiastic puppy referee at the taping of Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl IX" on Nov. 11, 2012, in New York. The mock football game will air on Super Bowl Sunday. The puppies used in the show are from shelters and rescue organizations across the country. Illustrates PUPPYBOWL (category l), by Maura Judkis (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, Jan. 3a, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson)

    Dan Schachner plays an enthusiastic puppy referee at the taping of Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl IX" on Nov. 11, 2012, in New York. The mock football game will air on Super Bowl Sunday. The puppies used in the show are from shelters and rescue organizations across the country. Illustrates PUPPYBOWL (category l), by Maura Judkis (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, Jan. 3a, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson)

  • This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows the Kitty half time show during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. The show provides national exposure to the shelters across the country that provide the puppy athletes and the kittens that star in the halftime show, and introduces viewers to the different breeds and animals that need homes, animal workers say. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)

    This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows the Kitty half time show during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. The show provides national exposure to the shelters across the country that provide the puppy athletes and the kittens that star in the halftime show, and introduces viewers to the different breeds and animals that need homes, animal workers say. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)

  • Dan Schachner plays an enthusiastic puppy referee at the taping of Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl IX" on Nov. 11, 2012, in New York. The mock football game will air on Super Bowl Sunday. The puppies used in the show are from shelters and rescue organizations across the country. Illustrates PUPPYBOWL (category l), by Maura Judkis (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, Jan. 3a, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson)

    Dan Schachner plays an enthusiastic puppy referee at the taping of Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl IX" on Nov. 11, 2012, in New York. The mock football game will air on Super Bowl Sunday. The puppies used in the show are from shelters and rescue organizations across the country. Illustrates PUPPYBOWL (category l), by Maura Judkis (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, Jan. 3a, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson)

  • This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows the Kitty half time show during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. The show provides national exposure to the shelters across the country that provide the puppy athletes and the kittens that star in the halftime show, and introduces viewers to the different breeds and animals that need homes, animal workers say. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)
  • This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows dogs playing on the field during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. Dogs score touchdowns on a 10-by-19-foot gridiron carpet when they cross the goal line with a toy. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)
  • Dan Schachner plays an enthusiastic puppy referee at the taping of Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl IX" on Nov. 11, 2012, in New York. The mock football game will air on Super Bowl Sunday. The puppies used in the show are from shelters and rescue organizations across the country. Illustrates PUPPYBOWL (category l), by Maura Judkis (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, Jan. 3a, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson)
  • This undated publicity photo provided by Animal Planet shows the Kitty half time show during "Puppy Bowl IX," in New York. The “Puppy Bowl,” an annual two-hour TV special that mimics a football game with canine players, made its debut eight years ago on The Animal Planet. The show provides national exposure to the shelters across the country that provide the puppy athletes and the kittens that star in the halftime show, and introduces viewers to the different breeds and animals that need homes, animal workers say. (AP Photo/Animal Planet, Keith Barraclough)
  • Dan Schachner plays an enthusiastic puppy referee at the taping of Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl IX" on Nov. 11, 2012, in New York. The mock football game will air on Super Bowl Sunday. The puppies used in the show are from shelters and rescue organizations across the country. Illustrates PUPPYBOWL (category l), by Maura Judkis (c) 2013, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, Jan. 3a, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson)

When reporters from the New Yorker, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, Good Morning America, the Associated Press and, yes, The Washington Post have all convened upon one event, it must be important. An appearance by the president. A press conference about dignified matters, with plenty of throat-clearing and questions taken at the end. Something worthy of those camera crews schlepping pounds of gear.

Nope! It’s puppies, 63 of them to be precise – the stars of Animal Planet’s ninth annual Puppy Bowl in New York. Journalists spent two days writing about puppies and taking video of other people taking video of puppies. Tomorrow, many more of them will be tweeting about those puppies. And here those puppies are, being discussed in a web article and the multiple column inches of paper that several trees died for, as some readers will be sure to remind us. And many of you may be rolling your eyes.

But the rest of you will eat it up, because puppies – these puppies especially – are so very cute. So cute that in the nine years since the Puppy Bowl first graced our screens, adorable has become a television genre, an internet phenomenon and a cash cow for both. Cute cannot be dismissed.

And thank goodness it wasn’t in 2005, when Animal Planet executives green-lighted a crazy idea: to film puppies playing football as counterprogramming to the Super Bowl. It may have sounded like a lark, but they said yes. And now they are reaping the rewards: The Puppy Bowl attracts a larger audience every year, with 2012’s show attracting 8.7 million unique total viewers during the 12-hour marathon. It was the highest day of web traffic ever for Animalplanet.com, with 5.5 million page views and 1.4 million videos streamed. It also ranked No. 1 for social television in cable last year, and according to AdWeek, ad revenue is up 19 percent over last year.

And before it did all of that, the Puppy Bowl inspired an entire online ecosystem of cute. It got its start two years before “I Can Has Cheezburger?,” the chronicler of LOLcats, became an internet brand. Since then, cute websites have only multiplied. Cute Overload. Zooborns. Reddit’s “Aww” section. Buzzfeed. The Daily Puppy. The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee. Squishfacedogs. “People caught on and got smart with the cuteness,” says Puppy Bowl executive producer Melinda Toporoff, who also produces Dogs 101 and Cats 101, two Animal Planet shows that could best be described as “cute porn” for the way cameras linger in slow motion over the most adorable specimens of every breed.

Yes, all this over a bunch of puppies rolling around in a stadium-shaped box.

The two-day Puppy Bowl taping begins not with puppies, but with hedgehogs. They’ve been cast as cheerleaders this year.

Twenty-one kittens arrive for the “Kitty Halftime Show,” and by 2 p.m., the room is totally blissed-out on fluff.

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).

Of course, the calls and the rules and the playbooks are all a big joke. No matter who you cheer for in the Puppy Bowl, puppies always win.

“If you had to really write it down, the only hard-and-fast rule is that the chew toy needs to be dragged into the end zone,” says Schachner. “That’s it. It doesn’t matter what direction. It doesn’t matter how it’s dragged there. It could even be by accident. That’s a touchdown.”

Animal adoption is the Puppy Bowl’s mission, and all dogs and cats on the show are available for adoption, though all but four will have found happy homes by the time of this story’s publication. Some shelters have built relationships with the show and give their dogs football-inspired names. Ana Bustilloz, of the Los Angeles SPCA, brought Blitz, a terrier mix, whom she hoped would follow in the footsteps of Fumble, last year’s Puppy Bowl MVP. “We’re hoping for magic twice,” she said, “but she’s shy.”

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