TCA 2012: NBC's 'Animal Practice' Cast Upstaged by a Monkey

'Animal Practice's' Justin Kirk

Single-camera office comedy Animal Practice hails from The Hangover Part 2 writer Scot Armstrong and stars Justin Kirk as a House-like veterinarian who loves animals but typically hates their owners. Universal Television and American Work will produce, while Brian Gatewood and Alex Tanaka will pen the project and exec produce alongside Armstrong and Ravi Nandan.

It's only fitting that a press conference for a comedy set in an animal hospital focuses almost entirely on the animals.

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So much so, in fact, that you get the sense that the comedy's five actors, including Justin Kirk and JoAnna Garcia Swisher, are rethinking their decision to show up for the Animal Practice session at the Television Critics Association's press tour Tuesday. And perhaps they didn’t need to as the panel's only truly noteworthy moment came when their co-star, Crystal the monkey, wheeled in on a toy ambulance to deliver a cue card that read “last question.” (Upon picking up the comedy in mid-May, NBC brass suggested Crystal was the network’s “highest testing character” of the fall.)

"We think this is an opportunity to do a fresh take on a work place comedy," said executive producer Scot Armstrong, "that happens to have animals in it." Fellow executive producer Brian Gatewood recalls being particularly surprised that a topic as broad as this one was not already on the air when he and his fellow EPs pitched it to NBC. 

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But rather than deny the scene-stealing capabilities of the animals cast, Kirk, who plays a veterinarian who fares better with them than he does with humans, praises them. “Crystal is so cool. She's the most famous monkey in Hollywood. So you just try to be cool around her,” he quips of the 18-year-old monkey, best known for her work on Community, We Bought a Zoo andThe Hangover II.

Swisher takes it a step further, acknowledging that the monkey --whose on-screen name was changed from Dr. Zaius to Dr. Rizzo when the NBC series couldn't license the name from Planet of the Apes-- often “hits her mark better than I do,” a testament, she says, to the trainer. In fact, Swisher, along with her producers, spend much of the half-hour waxing on about all of the animals’ trainers, and the environment they’ve been able to create as a result. “Everybody’s in a good mood," added EP Alessandro Tanaka of the set, "because there are all these puppies and kittens."