"Animal Practice" should really just be called "We Have A Monkey." Seriously -- even though the re-shot pilot added Joanna Garcia Swisher in the lead female role, the true stars of this sitcom are the animals, most notably Crystal the Monkey.
Yes, the "highest testing character" coming to NBC's fall schedule is a monkey named Crystal. "She's just super cool," star Justin Kirk said at the "Animal Practice" TCA panel. "She's the most famous monkey in Hollywood, so you try to be cool around her."
On hand at the panel were Kirk, Garcia Swisher and costars Bobby Lee, Kym Whitley and Betsy Sodaro, and executive producers Scot Armstrong, Anthony Russo, Alessandro Tanaka, Brian Gatewood and Gail Lerner, all of whom claim to be animal lovers in real life.
"I have two rescue dogs," Armstrong said, "and one of them is a Hurricane Katrina survivor. That's one of the reasons that we decided to do a show that celebrates animals."
Sadly missing for most of the panel was Crystal, a.k.a. Dr. Rizzo, who drove in on her battery-operated ambulance for a surprise appearance at the end of the session, reminding the assembled critics and journalists of the show's funniest moments.
But the old adage is that you should never work with kids (see NBC's other new sitcom "Guys With Kids" for more on that) or animals, so how tricky has it been?
"It's almost unnoticeable -- the company, Birds and Animals, that we use is an amazing company with amazing trainers," Tanaka said. "The environment that we maintain on set is very pet-friendly and calm."
"I'm sometimes late to my mark, but the animals are there, they're ready," joked Lee, who has a scene in the pilot where he's being choked by a boa constrictor. "I saw a light, I saw my grandfather, and then I heard 'cut!'"
There's also a line in the pilot about breeding a cat, something that brought out a few claws from critics, but rest assured that the show will try to send positive animal messages. "We will not support that on 'Animal Practice.' Spay and neuter your pets, Bob Barker, etcetera, etcetera," Kirk quipped.
"It's so easy to be like, 'Oh, why don't we have a dog start tap dancing,'" Tanaka said. "At the end of the day, this is an animal hospital. With all this comedy, we're also dealing with life and death situations ... in order to keep those stakes and keep the drama, we have to keep it grounded in reality."
So they're aware that they shouldn't go too broad with the animal hijinks, but Garcia Swisher says it's the actors that need to be reigned in. We're sure Crystal, the professional that she is, will keep them in line.
Tell us: Will you watch 'Animal Practice'?
For more on NBC's new 2012-2013 shows, check out the slideshow below: