Cat People Successfully Pressured Netflix’s ‘Dogs’ Creator Into Making ‘Cat People’
Sci-fi author Glen Zipper, also behind “Challenger: The Final Flight,” explains why he’s so obsessed with animals and space—and why cats are so much harder to film than dogs.
Ever since Dogs debuted on Netflix in 2018, creator Glen Zipper says, people from across the world have been making trips to Lake Como to see Ice, a labrador and now, perhaps, Italy’s most famous pooch. It’s not self-inflation, either; a quick search on Tripadvisor reveals several reviewers who credit the Netflix docuseries—and Ice the grizzled fishing dog—for luring them to the area.
Zipper has a theory to explain why people loved Ice so much. (Beyond our society’s general fondness for cute dogs.) “Ice is a dog who has free rein to roam the streets of Lake Como,” the creator and executive producer told The Daily Beast during a recent interview. “When you watch the episode, you get a real sense of freedom that most of us don't have in our lives on a daily basis.”
“There's an aspirational thing there—not just for how a dog can lead their life, but how we can lead our lives,” Zipper said.
But while dog lovers’ hearts melted over the warm, validating glow of Ice’s story, cat people had a different reaction: When, they wondered, could they expect for their feline friends to receive the same treatment?
Zipper recalls saving all of the tweets he received calling on him to make the project, and including them in his pitch to Netflix for his latest project. As Dogs Season 2 makes its premiere Wednesday, Zipper will also unveil Cat People—which takes a light-hearted but humanistic look at the bonds people around the world have formed with their cats.
Like Dogs, which premiered with stories that ranged from a girl with epilepsy meeting her first-ever service animal to a Syrian refugee reuniting with his dog, Zeus, Cat People weaves together stories from across the globe. In one episode, we meet a Portland-based rapper whose muses are his cats; in another, we follow an emotional support cat who doubles as a surfing partner.
While Dogs returns with four episodes, each around 50 minutes long, Cat People Season 1 spans six half-hour installments. For this viewer, the most fascinating Cat Person was Wakuneco—a Japanese artist who creates astonishingly lifelike 3D portraits of people’s beloved cats.
“When we first got that submission, we didn’t even know what the story would be. I mean, it’s a piece of art... What is the beginning and middle and end of the story? Is there one?” Zipper said. “But the second we took a look at that art, we said, 'Well, we’ve got to find a story because this art is so remarkable and so different, and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. There has to be story there.’”
Sachi, the artist who uses the professional moniker Wakuneco, began creating her portraits to help grieving pet owners overcome the loss of their closest companions. Cat People doesn’t only recount her path to professional success, but also quietly explores her relationship to her work as an artist. She gleams with happiness as she discusses the feeling of connection her felt sculptures bring, but also reflects on her anxieties about her work being too “doll”-like to merit serious appreciation.
Dogs, meanwhile, returns with the usual mixture of working pooches—like Butler University mascot Trip, an aging English bulldog trotting his way to retirement—and stories of human-canine connection, like that of a Brazilian priest working to care for unwanted strays.
But what some might not realize, Zipper said, is that another of these episodes is basically a spiritual sequel to yet another Netflix project of his—Challenger: The Final Flight. After that series came out, Zipper said, some viewers asked if a project centered on the Space Shuttle Columbia. In Dogs Season 2, he notes, Challenger directors Steven Leckart and Daniel Junge return to direct an episode about retired NASA astronaut Leland Melvin embarking on a journey to honor the friends he lost in the Columbia accident.
Some viewers might not immediately know Melvin by name, Zipper said, but likely all recognize his NASA portrait, which he sat for alongside his two Rhodesian ridgebacks. As seen in Dogs, Melvin’s bond with his animals and especially his first rescue dog Jake helped him overcome the loss of his friends on the Columbia.
Over the past few years, several of Zipper’s projects appear to have aligned around two central interests: animals and space. In addition to Challenger, Zipper has another interstellar series in the works with Showtime—a four-part UFO docu-series made in collaboration with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot. He also released a sci-fi YA novel last year.
When asked whether anything connects these apparently disparate passions, Zipper joked, “We may risk turning this into therapy.”
As a child of divorce who grew up without pets, he said, the moment he brought them into his life as an adult turned out to be “a miraculous evolution of my world, where I suddenly had this wellspring of infinite and endless unconditional love.”
Naturally, after such a revelation, Zipper wanted to spread the good word. And the space stuff, he said, actually comes from a similar place: “Going back to spending a lot of time alone and not really having a lot of companionship in my life as a kid, I used my imagination a lot,” he said. Science fiction and fantasy epics became a place of solace—and “after you live in those imaginary worlds for years upon years, you want to start to create your own.”
But on to the most pressing question of the hour: After spending so much time with both cats and dogs, which does Zipper think is more impossible to capture on film? He wasted no time before choosing the former.
Dogs, you’ll be shocked to learn, are pretty desperate to please on set—“whereas cats, you come in the door, they’re under the couch, right? It’s sort of like trying to get an A-list actor out of their trailer.”