“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” has become the most watched program on Netflix for days.
It’s a true crime documentary series about Joe Exotic, a tiger breeder and former owner of a zoo in Oklahoma. He’s now imprisoned partly for plotting a failed hit job on Carole Baskin, the owner of a big cat sanctuary in Florida.
Baskin doesn’t have a great reputation either. Spoiler alert: Some people suspect she murdered her ex-husband and fed him to her tigers.
We talk to the show’s creators, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin.
“When we first set out to make this film, we had no idea that it would take as many twists and turns as it did,” says Rebecca Chaiklin, who directed the series alongside Eric Goode. “It was beyond our wildest imagination. It felt like it would never end. And it's still unfolding.”
What started as a deep dive into the colorful and controversial world of exotic animal breeding morphed into a true crime series that Chaiklin and Goode spent five years creating.
Even the filmmakers themselves had mixed feelings about the main subject: Exotic, who owned the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Zoo in Oklahoma and breeded hundreds of tigers.
“I had a lot of preconceived ideas about what he was doing, and felt that it was ethically wrong and cruel to the animals,” says Chaiklin. “But he was also very disarming. He wore his heart on his sleeve. He was an open book. He was incredibly charismatic and colorful. I was taken aback by feeling a certain warmth to him, because I thought I would be completely turned off in every way.”
His personality, and the personalities of those surrounding the exotic animal industry, pulls viewers into the show and makes it Netflix’s top TV series.
Chaiklin and Goode are thrilled about the success, but worry the media spotlight could cause further damage to captive animals.
The Greater Wynnewood Zoo is still open and run by the current CEO, Jeff Lowe, who’s featured in the series as a con man trying to take Exotic’s zoo.
“Ironically and sadly, maybe this press and this media frenzy over the ‘Tiger King’ is giving Jeff Lowe and the zoo attention,” says Goode. “He's tried to monetize this by selling T-shirts at the zoo, branded ‘Tiger King.’”
Meanwhile, Goode says Exotic is bathing in his 15 minutes of fame from behind bars at the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma.
“Joe is ecstatic,” says Goode.
Baskin, on the other hand, is not so happy with how the series turned out.
“Carol, unfortunately, doesn't feel that the series shines a light on the exploitation of these cats the way she would have liked,” says Goode, who worries he unwittingly portrayed Joe Exotic as an anti-hero.
Goode continues, “People like Joe should not be continuing these practices.” He hopes that message comes across amid the murder, mayhem and madness.
–Written by Kathryn Barnes, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir