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Next on Animal Planet: Horse flatulence

Network exec scoops the poop on 'penalties,' makeovers

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One of the stars of "Puppy Bowl II" chews on a toy.

SPECIAL REPORT

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

Animals
Jane Goodall
Steve Irwin
Mary Chapin Carpenter

(CNN) -- The Discovery Channel's Animal Planet has been taking a close look at critters for a decade. Maureen Smith, executive vice president and general manager of the network, spoke with CNN.com about what it's like working with wild animals and some even wilder hosts. Together, we tackled the tough questions:

CNN: Who picks up the poop on some of the shows?

SMITH: It's often the animal wrangler. We had one show that's become a real annual hit for us called the "Puppy Bowl." Our referee throws a yellow flag when there's been a "puppy penalty" and that basically means that there's been a little mess on the field. And he goes in and cleans it. So here's this actor that we get that also goes in and cleans the mess. We call him our puppy penalty cleaner.

But then we did a special called "Trail Mix" about celebrities and their horses, I can't tell you how many times during shooting we had not just puppy poop, but horse poop. In that case, the star of our show, Linda Eder, just grabbed a shovel and picked it up herself, and we actually kept that in the show. And I think what it shows too, when it comes to animals, people don't care what they do for a living, how famous they might be, it's just part of the job.

CNN: What are some funny show bloopers?

SMITH: If you watch any of our Jeff Corwin shows or Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, we often include those outtakes in the show.

Again, in that horse special we did, "Trail Mix," our host was interviewing singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, and they were standing out on this lovely, lovely farm of Mary Chapin's in Virginia, and having this very intimate conversation moment, and the horse standing right up against them put its rear right in between the two of them and passed wind. So those kinds of things happen.

CNN: How easy are the animals to work with? Are the hosts and crews ever in mortal danger?

SMITH: Steve and Jeff have had near misses; Jane Goodall has been battered around quite a few times by large primates. We've had people also befallen by insect bites and malaria, so it's not just the big animals you have to worry about.

We have a special coming up called "After the Attack" and it's hosted by Dave Salmoni, who is a big cat expert and a former tiger and lion trainer who was attacked, and we have footage of him being attacked by a lion he was working with on stage. And it really changed his life, and he realized that the lion didn't do anything wrong, he [Salmoni] did.

So it's Dave going out and meeting four people who have had these incredibly amazing encounters and near-death experiences, one with a shark, one with an alligator, one with a grizzly bear and the other with a mountain lion. And they tell their stories and then Dave walks them through what the animal's point of view was. And it really gives you an understanding that they're not out there stalking humans to be evil. You were either in their territory and they were simply protecting it, or they were hungry and you were their nearest food source ... something like that.

CNN: Have you met Steve Irwin?

SMITH: I have. ... He gets so excited when he is on the job or when he's talking to people about what he does. And especially because his message is really about conservation: He really wants to leave the world a better place for everybody.

But he is also incredibly warm and funny and charming as well. He really is.

When we were last in New York together, we were having breakfast in the hotel, and just walking through the lobby -- I will never forget this moment -- businessmen in suits who were having a little mini-conference over in a little seating area literally stood up and gave him a standing ovation as he walked through. Spontaneously, just because they recognized him. And he has that amazing appeal, kids light up when he walks in the room, it's just magical. And you want to talk magical -- Jane Goodall, too.

CNN: You've had some big names host Animal Planet shows or appear on the shows with their pets. Who are some of the most surprising celebrity fans of Animal Planet you've met?

SMITH: I think Joe Perry of Aerosmith. He's this legendary rock 'n' roll rock star, and he also leads this other life where he's this incredibly wonderful family man, and he and his wife Billy own this amazing farm way out in Vermont, where they ride Friesian horses, and it's their getaway. And they have dogs, and they have reptiles, and they're huge Animal Planet fans and wonderful, wonderful people.

CNN: Are Animal Planet employees mostly dog people or cat people?

SMITH: I would say it's about 50-50. We also have horse-passionate people, we have some who have fish that they treasure, but I would say it's dogs, cats and horses with our staff that I know most about.

CNN: Do you have pets?

SMITH: Right now we have two beagles, but at any time in the past few years we've had frogs, hermit crabs, fish tanks. I've had previous dogs and birds all my life.

CNN: What's the wildest animal you've held or come in contact with?

SMITH: I've had dreams come true. I was on a vacation down in the Turks and Caicos, and we were going out to snorkel, and there was a lone dolphin who had been kicked out of the pod, and I jumped in and literally it swam with me for 10 minutes, through my legs and everything. So that was really one of those amazing encounters.

Through Animal Planet I've actually fed the mother panda at the National Zoo, the mother of Tai Shan that's been getting all the attention. I was there four hours after Tai Shan was born. I've had to hold an 80-pound albino python for a presentation, around my neck, and at that same presentation we had a baby white tiger. And I did a speech a year-and-a-half ago holding a tarantula in one hand and with an 8-inch walking stick on my lapel. But it's fun! That's the cool stuff.

CNN: Do you get mail from pet owners who say their pets watch the channel?

SMITH: I don't just get mail, I get pictures. Probably at least once a month, but sometimes three times a week, I'll get a picture of a cat or a dog sitting in front of the TV, watching Animal Planet. And we hear a lot from people who board their pets at kennels that are a little more like hotels, and they will often tell us that Animal Planet is on the TVs for the pets.

I have a hard time though, when I'm screening tapes at my house, because if my dogs hear wolves they'll go nuts -- so I have to be very selective in what I bring home to screen.

CNN: Do you have any shows meant for animals, like the dog- and cat-sitter DVDs?

SMITH: We are working on a series of [brief segments] so that when people are gathered around, watching Animal Planet, their pets are also being targeted and spoken directly to. We'll be announcing that in the next few weeks, because we launch it in June. It's very different: short and sweet, but we think it's fun, and it really addresses those people who tell us they watch with their pets or their pets watch alone.

CNN: What are some show pitches that never aired?

SMITH: The things we've rejected are when people come to us, and there's a hot trend in reality television, and they try to recreate that, and instead of people put animals in the situation. And it just doesn't feel natural with the activity that we like to show on Animal Planet. We get pitched doggie makeover shows probably five times a week, I'm not kidding.

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