Reason why TV characters don’t have pet cats

Why we don't have cats on television shows?
Why we don’t have cats on television shows? It often takes too long to get the video ‘in the can’ according to Jamin a Hollywood screenwriter.
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The reason why TV characters don’t have pet cats, according to Michael Jamin a Hollywood screenwriter, is because it takes too long to film the scene. And it takes too long to film the scene because even with trained Hollywood domestic cats they are sometimes not cooperative enough due to various factors such as working in a strange place with lots of noise and strange characters. In essence film trained cats appear to be slightly spooked by all the hubbub and activity which Jamin says suddenly quietens down when the filming starts. Ironically this can also spook them slightly.

That is not to say that trained domestic cat don’t perform on set; they do, but it takes longer to film the scene. As time is money, Jamin implies that it is less viable financially to incorporate a cat in TV footage. Here’s his reason on TikTok.

Note: This is an embedded video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source or the video is turned into a link which stops it working here. I have no control over this.

Some people ask why not put the cat in the background? That shouldn’t take off a lot of effort with no need to control the cat. The problem he says is that it makes the editing less coherent, on my interpretation. If a cat is moving around in the background in various ways travelling from left to right and right to left across the scene it makes it more disjointed and doesn’t really add to the quality of the production.

He explains this in his TikTok video. Michael Jamin has two decades of experience as a TV writer and producer. He has worked on shows such as King of the Hill, Wilfred and Tacoma FD. He was the executive producer on the sitcom Maron which starred the comedian and podcaster, Marc Maron.

What can I add in terms of observations to his insights? A couple of things come to mind. Firstly, I can remember the cat on Marlon Brando’s lap in The Godfather, which added tremendously to that particular scene. Marlon Brando was a cat lover which helped because the cat thoroughly enjoyed his petting. The cat was simply scooped up from the production area. This was not a trained cat. But the cat purred as he enjoyed Marlon Brando’s petting so much. This masked or interfered with Marlon Brando’s delivery of his lines. So, they had to do some post production recording to make it clearer. More time and trouble 😊.

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Recently, we have Benedict Cumberbatch in The Electric Life of Louis Wain (2021). I think he enjoyed working with cats but he did mention that on occasions it was a struggle to get the filming completed. Once again there is this inherent, at least potential, difficulty with trained domestic cats to get them to cooperate due to their “independence” which really is down to the fact that, although they’ve been domesticated for about 10,000 years, they have this slightly wild character and they are not pack animals like dogs and therefore don’t look to humans to take the lead. We know cats are harder to train than dogs.

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There was a study recently about this in which they concluded that cats hear their owner calling but decide to ignore it. My response to this was that they don’t always ignore a call from their owner. It’s more about the cat taking the time to process the request.

To recap, the problem with domestic cats on television and film sets is that although they can be trained, they are wild at heart and they’re not pack animals. They are not as domesticated as domestic dogs. There wildness is just below the surface and it bubbles up to the surface under potentially stressful conditions despite good training. It’s an instinctive reaction to what is around them which is noise, commotion, strange people and lots of activity. They probably forget their training and become less cooperative than the director wants them to be.

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An instinctive reaction will be to hide or escape. This might override what they’ve been trained to do or what the director wants them to do in that particular scene. In the Marc Maron scene in question Jamin says that a cat should have loved it because they had salmon on a table and they would have expected the cat to jump up and be with Maron. They had expected the scene to be quite easy to shoot but the cat was uncooperative and it took about an hour. In that time, they could have shot several other scenes.

Ultimately, it comes down to money; production costs. It’s about efficiency and getting the job done while keeping the cost down. As Jamin said, when the director called “action” the cat froze in place. In this instance the cat was perturbed by the sudden silence after all the noise and commotion. It took them an hour to get the cat to jump up for five seconds of screen time.

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