Ranking the 2014 Puppy Bowl, Kitten Bowl and Fish Bowl

Before, during and after Super Bowl XLVIII there were a number of other viewing options to occupy your time if you so chose (which may have come in handy for many, given how the Big Game almost immediately turned into a blowout). Animal lovers, in particular, had more options than usual this year to get their “bowl” fix on. There was, of course, the tried-and-true Puppy Bowl, which has adorably dominated the space for 10 installments now. But newcomers Kitten Bowl and Fish Bowl also appeared on the scene this past Super Bowl Sunday, staking claims for not only the passionate owners of those types of pets who finally got to see their furry and finny buddies represented, but also for those who may – gasp! — be getting a little bored with Puppy Bowl. (How long before some network jumps in with a “Bird Bowl,” to round out the Super Bowl Sunday counter-programming marathon centered around popular pets?)

I checked out good portions of all three “animal bowls” and am now ready to report my rankings for the 2014 Puppy Bowl, Kitten Bowl and Fish Bowl — results that may have surprised me most of all.


1. Fish Bowl on Nat Geo Wild. Honestly, I was surprised at how enjoyable I found Nat Geo Wild’s first installment of the “Fish Bowl” — which, as its name implies, was four hours of various goldfish swimming in a bowl. Being more of a cat and (especially) dog lover, and having not had a fish as a pet in over 30 years, I was skeptical that this special could hold my interest. But I was into it almost from the start. The main appeal about Fish Bowl to me was that it got back to the basics that the Puppy Bowl once had — an ambient, almost hypnotic at times, feel to it that put the focus on the animals, as well as background music and sounds. There was very little talking, or people at all (aside from two kids who featured prominently at various times). Humans were generally restricted to arms and hands popping in-and-out of the frame, doing everything from putting the fish into the bowl and taking them out, to opening a pizza box on the table next to the fish. In what were perhaps nods to its competition, Fish Bowl even found ways of incorporating a puppy and some kitties into its action. Fish Bowl resembled the legendary Yule Log, in a way; something you could just as easily get into watching attentively, as having on as background ambiance. I liked the creative way producers were able to change things up, whether it was the number and types of goldfish, the music selection and the various scenarios. These scenarios started normally enough, with just one fish — “Goldie” — in her tank. But as the night wore on, scenes took delightfully unusual turns, including near the end, when the fish bowl found itself surrounded by those little green Army men (with some even parachuting into the bowl), accompanied by background sounds of a war movie. Some of the scenes were related to the sounds of what seemed to be a TV in the other room, which often was tuned to a football game, naturally. Also refreshing about Fish Bowl was the lack of in-show advertising (there were commercial breaks), and a more subtle approach by Nat Geo Wild to cross-promote with other network programs. Now, that could all certainly change if Fish Bowl is a hit and comes back in future years (like what happened with Puppy Bowl), and maybe it was just refreshing to see the novelty of something new in this genre, but for now the event was a pleasant and welcome surprise to flip back and forth to during the evening.


2. Kitten Bowl on Hallmark Channel. Like Fish Bowl, Kitten Bowl was a first-time special, and I was likewise surprised at getting into it. As I mentioned above, I’m a dog fan above all, but I don’t mind kitties, and this special was filled with plenty of cute ones. Set up on a similar football field as Puppy Bowl, the three-hour event had more of a structure to it, which was a nice way of handling the different types of play in kittens versus that of puppies. In Kitten Bowl, various cats were set up on “teams” and engaged in different agility-type games. Whereas Puppy Bowl has an unseen announcer calling its action, Kitten Bowl had both an on-air host, Beth Stern, as well as occasionally seen play-by-play folks (including Yankees radio announcer John Sterling). Stern would occasionally take a time out to meet with a celebrity on the field to chat and hold kittens, which was Hallmark’s way of promoting some of its talent (along with having a team named “Cedar Cove Cougars,” after the network’s popular series Cedar Cove). The proceedings were fun, including a sudden “blackout,” which played off last year’s infamous power outage at the Super Bowl (Puppy Bowl also incorporated a “blackout” of its own).


3. Puppy Bowl X on Animal Planet. It’s sad to admit that I have to rank Puppy Bowl third this year. Of course, it used to be the only game in town, and seeing what Kitten Bowl and Fish Bowl brought to the screen made the changes in Puppy Bowl over the years perhaps stand out more in my mind. It probably always will be hard for Puppy Bowl to live up to the magic I felt the first few times I saw it. Like much that lasts a while, one can get cynical or perhaps too familiar with Puppy Bowl. Whatever it is, I still flip over to it, but more often than not, the cute puppy action is distracted from by ads, promos and even the referee engaging in some product-placement action. Last year I wrote a bit about Puppy Bowl’s growth and how, in my mind, that has helped lead to some of my frustration with the program. Many of those elements were evident again this year, along with some new annoyances (including a performance by “Keyboard Cat”). I’ll always tune in to at least some of Puppy Bowl for as long as it’s on to see some very cute dogs (and they were adorable again this year), but I think, like the Super Bowl itself, the event has gotten too big. Perhaps with some competition in the Kitten Bowl and Fish Bowl, if those stick around, the resulting cuteness rivalry can prove healthy.


Fish Bowl: Courtesy of Nat Geo Wild

Kitten Bowl: © Crown Media United States, LLC. Credit: Marc Lemoine

Puppy Bowl X: Damian Stohmeyer/Animal Planet