Who needs the Super Bowl when you've got puppies, kitties, fish and toddlers?

No way you can get deflated watching the "Puppy Bowl XI." CREDIT; Animal Planet

For years, most TV networks counter-program the Super Bowl with repeats. Why bother competing against a monstrosity that draws more than 100 million viewers?

Then a decade ago, Animal Planet came up with an inspiring bit of whimsy: stick a bunch of cute shelter puppies on a mini football field and call it the Puppy Bowl. It's an idea so idiotic, it works.

Executives at the time said they were inspired by the old Yule Tide log TV networks would air on Christmas. The very first airing of "Puppy Bowl I" drew a modest 150,000 viewers. By last year, more than 10 million people watched the show throughout the day.

And the show itself has gotten more elaborate over the years, reflecting the growth in the Super Bowl festivities.  Some of the accoutrements sound like ideas spun very late at night under a cloud of pot smoke.

There's a kitty halftime show featuring Katty Furry, who will sub in for the real Katy Perry over on NBC. This year will feature dwarf goat cheerleaders. There's a "rufferee" and a sideline reporter. They have a slow motion cute cam, a water bowl cam and a kiss cam.

The 85 puppies are from all over the country - including two from Atlanta: Crimson and Cherry, Jack Russell pups from Atlanta Underdog Rescue.

Cherry and Crimson are Atlanta Jack Russell pups on "Puppy Bowl XI." CREDIT: Animal Planet

"Every year, we look to expand the delight of it all," said Melinda Toporoff, an Animal Planet executive producer for "Puppy Bowl." "We've upped the absurdity of it all."

For instance, they are now keeping score between teams named Fluff and Ruff. Whenever a puppy pushes a chew toy into the end zone, his team scores a touchdown. And they've added a fantasy football league.

About 100 hours of video were taped in October over two days of the puppies and it's taken even more hours to turn it into a semi-coherent "game." "I can't tell you how shocked people are when they find out it's not live," she said. "That's the highest compliment to our editors."

The success of "Puppy Bowl" led to two pigskin rivals last year: Hallmark Channel's "Kitten Bowl" and the even more absurdist "Fish Bowl" on Nat Geo Wild. And this year, TLC will be airing a new version called "Toddler Bowl."

"KItten Bowl II" will feature Beth Stern (Howard Stern's wife) as host and will include appearances by Boomer Esiason, Kevin Nealon, Regis Philbin, Kat Dennings, Maria Menounos and future "Cat Woman" from "Gotham" Camren Bicondova. CREDIT: Hallmark Channel

Hallmark's 92 kittens taking part in "Kitten Bowl" are also rescues with two well-known sportscasters doing "play by play": Mary Carillo and John Sterling. There is also a "purrking" lot where adult cats tailgate. They even sell merchandise including Hallmark trading cards featuring the kittens.

Here's a "teaser" video from the Kitten Bowl II with Katy Perry's "Roar" as a backdrop:

Nat Geo Wild began last year with Goldie the goldfish in a fish bowl in a studio. This year, Goldie's bowl has moved to the farm so chickens, cows and pigs can "interact" with said fish bowl. Plus, he'll have some clown fish to join him.

"Last year, it was the buzziest, trendiest thing we've ever done," said Geoff Daniels, general manager for Nat Geo Wild. "People couldn't believe we actually did something so outside the bowl."

He said they shot the fish last year for the first time in ultra high def 4D. "We really wanted the gold to pop and shimmer," he said.  At the same time, he plans to keep it simple with no narration, just farm-friendly banjo-heavy music.

TLC's brand new "Toddler Bowl" is pretty self explanatory but here's how they are pitching it: "A field of talented tots ages 1 to 3  go diaper to diaper in a series of physical challenges and brain-boosting games that represent crucial learning and growth developmental stages for toddlers. Host and YouTube sensation Clintus McGintus will act as referee, guiding the tiny tykes through their various contests."

Challenges include:

The "Puppy Bowl" executives are not scared by the competition.

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Toporoff of Animal Planet said.

"Puppy Bowl XI," 3 p.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, Animal Planet, with multiple repeats for 10 more hours. The first three airings will feature slightly different MVPs, based on online voting.

"Kitten Bowl II," noon - 3 p.m., repeated two more times, Sunday, Hallmark Channel

"Fish Bowl II," 6-10 p.m., Sunday, NatGeoWild

"Toddler Bowl," noon, Sunday, TLC

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.