The Lion Kings Return

There was the talking horse, of course. Also the heroic collie, the helpful dolphin and an entire planet of apes. Animals used to be a TV staple, but lately they've been put out to pasture, a.k.a. cable. That's going to change in a big and bizarre way this week when NBC debuts an animated sitcom called "Father of the Pride." "Pride" features talking creatures who live in Las Vegas and struggle with all sorts of humanlike burdens: a giant panda with relationship issues (the pool of panda bachelors is small), a teenage lion caught with catnip. But that's not the bizarre stuff. The animals are owned by Siegfried and Roy, the famed trainers whose act ended last year after Roy was mauled almost to death by a tiger. Is there a sitcom on the planet funny enough to make viewers forget that tragedy?

"Pride" certainly has an impressive pedigree. The show is produced by DreamWorks, which uses the computer animation from "Shrek" (cost per half hour: $1.6 million). The conceit of "Pride" is that the animals, when they're not performing, lead literally domesticated lives, right down to their PTA meetings. John Goodman provides the voice of Larry, the reluctant lead lion. Cheryl Hines is his exasperated wife, and Carl Reiner is the crusty father-in-law. It's a nifty idea: the anthropomorphized cartoons let "Pride" recycle sitcom cliches into comedy that's funny and often daring. Did we mention the lesbian gophers?

Then again, "Pride" has become an exercise in daring. "There was about four to six weeks following the attack where we didn't know if we could go forward or even if it was appropriate to," says NBC president Jeff Zucker. Siegfried and Roy themselves--who appear in the show (voiced by actors) as the flamboyant den mothers of this furry world--insisted the show must go on. "This has become much more important to them than when we started," says DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg. "It's a way for their show to exist, to have a life beyond Las Vegas." The pair approved everything, even the frequent jokes at their expense. "I went to Vegas last weekend to show them an episode," says Katzenberg, "and Roy turned to me at the end and said, 'Jeffrey, laughter is the best medicine'." TV that's good for you--it doesn't get better than that.