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Death Knocks (Again) at 'Meerkat Manor'

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, June 6, 2008

A star of a beloved TV series has died in a vehicle accident shortly after shooting for the upcoming season wrapped, a network executive confirmed yesterday. But the network will not disclose the name of the star lest it upset fans.

The show is "Meerkat Manor," where the cast members drop like flies because it's, you know, real life and the life expectancy of a meerkat is even shorter than the average career span of a supermodel. On this show alone, meerkat stars whose television careers got cut short include Flower, Mozart, Carlos, Tosca, Big Si, Shakespeare, Cazanna, Kinkajou and the latest fatality.

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS* IF YOU ARE A MEERKAT-ANATIC AND DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHICH MEERKAT HAS DIED.

*We will let you know when to pick up again. If you are able to read this alert, you are old enough to make this decision for yourself and if you read the following paragraphs, you cannot claim to be a victim of The TV Column. Those are the rules.

Tragically, the latest meerkat to find his/her way to the Rainbow Bridge -- that's where all beloved animals go when they die, according to greeting card companies -- is Rocket Dog, Flower's daughter, who had become the dominant female of the Whiskers group.

The Kalahari Meerkat Project reported to the producers in late April that Rocket Dog died after being hit by a car. Word of the death surfaced on the Animal Planet Web site's "Meerkat Manor" chat room on May 1 but was not discovered by The Reporters Who Cover Television until yesterday -- two days before the show's fourth-season debut. And yes, there's just no being too cynical when covering the TV industry.

"It is a shame, but life happens," Gene Gaines of Sterling said of Rocket Dog's death. Gaines is a co-founder of the East Coast Meerkat Society, whose 450 members hail from 11 countries. "I can be outraged that they permit trucks anywhere near the meerkats, but that is totally unreasonable. . . . I'm simply going to trust the researchers," Gaines told The Post's Emily Yahr.

SPOILER UN-ALERT: Okay to start reading again.

The six-inch TV star was killed in what is being described as a hit-and-run while crossing a road in the Kalahari Desert, where she and her community are being studied by Cambridge University researchers while starring in their own series. That information is from an Animal Planet publicist who spoke to The TV Column.

The show's fourth season had finished shooting on Feb. 28, so for you ghoulish types out there, you will not view the death this coming season.

Word of the death getting out is kind of a bummer for the network and show producers who had given this season the tag line "More Sex, Less Death."

We're guessing this marketing campaign has something to do with trying to boost the show's numbers. In its third season, the average audience for each episode's premiere telecast was 797,000 viewers; the last original telecast, in November, premiered with 762,000 tuned in. But watching all that meerkat mortality is not for the faint of heart.

"Last year was tragic and we lost a lot of our major characters," the show's senior executive producer, Mick Kaczorowski, told The TV Column.

Last season alone, he said, three meerkats met their Maker. Mozart, "the caring one," was killed by a jackal outside her burrow.

Carlos, "the horny one," was bitten in the face during a fight with Hannibal, the dominant male of another colony, an infection set in and that was all he wrote.

And of course, Flower, "the iron-pawed, fearless leader," met her end after being bitten in the face by a Cape cobra while protecting a litter of newborn pups.

This coming season, Kaczorowski promised, "is really a very different season than you've ever seen before . . . -- laugh-out-loud funny, sexy, sassy -- not like last season."

Except the death thing, of course.

"It's kind of what we have to deal with in the natural world, unfortunately," Kaczorowski said of the hit-and-run. Which seemed odd -- we are talking about roadkill here, not a Cape cobra bite. We mentioned this to him.

"Meerkats are part of the Kalahari scenery and people are now part of the Kalahari scenery and cars are part of the Kalahari scenery and cattle are now part of the Kalahari scenery," he responded philosophically. We aren't sure what the cattle reference was to, in a conversation about the harshness of meerkat life, but it definitely sounds ominous.

"It's one of those hard things," Kaczorowski said. "Unlike 'Desperate Housewives' we have no control over the story structure or the plotline."

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