Jim Harris, the creative genius behind the huge PBS hit of the future, “Meerkat Abbey.” (Photo by Z. Schulz)

by Jim Harris

Recently, my teenage son began watching old episodes of “Meerkat Manor,” the wildly popular nature docudrama that aired on the Animal Planet channel from 2005 to 2008. It follows the day-to-day lives of a clan of meerkats who lived in the Kalahari Desert.

At first, he was watching with earphones on, and I would occasionally glance at the screen to see lots of meerkats running to and fro, grooming and popping their heads out of burrow holes. It didn’t seem to have a lot of variety or change of activity from episode to episode. I wondered why it had been such a popular show, so I decided to sit down and watch a full episode with the sound on.

The narration made all the difference. They had names like Flower, Rocket and Mozart. They had a complex social structure and fierce loyalties. It had everything — sex, greed, status, jealousy, altruism, war and childbirth. And death, oh my goodness, the death. It seemed like every two minutes one of them would fall out of a tree, die of disease or get eaten by a predator. Whenever a favorite meerkat died, I mourned.

Such pathos, such emotional investment in the characters. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “This is just like … Downton Abbey!” That’s when I got the million-dollar idea: write a show that combines the elements of both programs — ‘Meerkat Abbey!’” It would involve famous British actors dressed as meerkats doing all the things that made both shows so interesting. It can’t lose, and I’m willing to let a few deep-pocket investors in on the ground floor, but you must act quickly. Here’s my outline for the show:

It’s 1912, and life in the sprawling burrow known as Meerkat Abbey is idyllic and bustling for the alpha males and dominant females of the Crawley clan, so-named for their uncanny ability to crawl rapidly and effortlessly through a labyrinth of narrow underground passageways. They are aided by their cadre of loyal subordinates who groom and feed them and baby-sit their young.

In episode one, Rufus (Anthony Hopkins), who had been dragged away a year earlier by a marauding Dachshund and is presumed dead, suddenly returns and tries to regain his job as Lord Snoutington’s valet, but he is rebuffed and evicted from the Abbey because he has lost three legs and now walks with a pronounced limp. When he returns a week later and begins to make unwanted advances to the Dowager Countess (Angela Lansbury) the other males get together and chase him off a cliff.

Elsewhere, Lady Maybelline (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose husband, the Earl of Twitsbury (Hugh Grant) was recently bitten in half by a badger, gives birth to five healthy pups who are immediately carried off by owls. Mary’s grief is short-lived, however, as she sets her sights on a new suitor, the Duke of Shrewsburrow (Daniel Day-Lewis). But as the Duke is in the middle of proposing to her, he tilts his head skyward and barks “Danger” just before a 10-ton boulder falls on his head.

While members of the group try frantically to dig him out from under the boulder, the O’Hooligan Clan from the next glen attacks the Crawleys, and full-scale meerkat warfare breaks out, with limbs and fur flying everywhere. The episode ends as a massive brush fire comes over the horizon, promising that things may take a turn for the worse in the next installment.

I haven’t actually signed any actors yet, although when the investors’ money starts pouring in, it won’t take long. I have begun digging the burrows and have designed a prototype meerkat costume that I will wear myself in cameo appearances I will do on the show from time to time. So send me your checks now if you want to be associated with this prestigious production, and I’ll be sure to mention your name in my acceptance speech at the Emmy Awards.

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