ABC's 'Downward Dog' Is Not (Totally) About a Talking Dog

Downward Dog Promo - H 2016
ABC/Bob D’Amico

There is a stigma about talking-dog shows — which, generally speaking, is that they are cheesy and terrible.

Downward Dog tries to distance itself from the stereotypes with its trailer. It looks almost like any other cinema-verite-esque single-camera comedy, only the melancholy voiceover comes from a canine. The team behind the upcoming ABC show hopes that will be enough to pique viewers' interests.

"There's really strong narrative to the talking dog, where you think you know what it is," co-creator Samm Hodges told press on Tuesday afternoon. "I don't think anybody wants to watch a talking-dog show the way we've seen them."

Star Allison Tolman took it one step further: "I think it's a talking-dog show that's not about a talking dog."

Downward Dog's 30-minute panel was all over the place. Its largely slaphappy cast and creative team bounced between getting existential about dog voiceover — "The dog is representative of people and their anxieties" — and joking about how the real-life rescue mutt they filmed the show with wasn't terribly interested in any of them. "Ned is the most naturally solemn dog," one commented.

However cringeworthy talking-dog shows have been in the past, Downward Dog has at least appeared to have a different trajectory. ABC brass were hot on the project early in development, and it was also the first full-time gig for Tolman after her breakout turn in the first season of FX's Fargo.

"I really searched long and hard for my next TV project after Fargo," she said, noting that offers for ensembles and best-friend parts came fast and furious. "I read a lot of scripts, and I went into a lot of meetings. This show, specifically the web series [it's based on], just sold me. I wanted to be a leading lady. I feel like Fargo was a really dramatic show that was funny, and our show is a really funny show that's dramatic."

Executive producer John Hoberg echoed her description, saying that they wanted to make a comedy with the sensibility of an FX or Amazon half-hour, but for broadcast TV.

Ned ("Martin," in the world of the show) was not present at the show's ABC panel — actor Barry Rothbart said the canine was at the "dog TCAs" — but his co-stars happily fielded questions for him. One reporter asked if the dog, who speaks only as a narrator in the pilot, would talk to other dogs in future episodes.

"That's crazy," said Tolman. "Don't be silly."

Downward Dog is set to debut sometime this summer.