Cat-Minster: the Taping of a Cat Show

byText by Lee Harper
Photos by Doug Bolton


Published November 2006

NOTE: The author of this article was an award-winning TV writer/director/producer before leaving the industry to become the founding editor of the acclaimed online cat magazines, ShowCatsOnline.com and PandEcats.com. Her experience in television included a wide variety of events including:

  • The Molson Indy Vancouver: The prestigious Champ Car race won by such notables as AL Unser Jr. and Michael Andretti
  • Hockey: Coverage of both regularly scheduled and charitable hockey games featuring old-time hockey greats such as Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.
  • The Transplant Olympics: The four-day athletic competition for recipients of organ transplants included in-depth stories of three individuals - a heart transplant recipient, a kidney transplant donor and a lung transplant recipient.
  • The Vancouver Aquarium: A behind the scenes look at the the challenges faced by a major aquarium facility exhibiting Killer Whales and featuring an "sleep-over" with the Beluga Whales.

The CFA International Cat Show, held November 17-19, 2006 at the San Mateo County Expo Center in Northern California, was videotaped in anticipation of producing a 2 hour TV special of the event.

Dubbed "Cat-Minster", a take-off on the Westminster Dog Show which enjoys extensive TV coverage every year, the program will air as a TV special on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 at 8:00 - 10:00 PM, ET on the Game Show Network.

The TV special will introduce the world of pedigreed felines to a new audience and help raise the profile of CFA and pedigreed cats.

Produced by Painless Productions and hosted by husband and wife team, Bob Goen and Marianne Curan, the TV special will feature highlights from the cat show, giving viewers a glimpse into the preparation that goes into the competition. The show this year included more than 700 entries representing 41 breeds competing for "Best in Show" and marked CFA's 100th anniversary.

Based in California, Painless Productions produces the TV special "Eukanuba Tournament of Champions" dog show and the two-night, live simulcast of "The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship," which airs on The Discovery Channel. This was the first time however that they were involved in taping a cat show.

CFA agreed to many concessions to the normal running of the International Cat Show to accommodate the needs or preferences of the TV crew. Some of the changes were acceptable, and other changes could be made more palatable with some "tweaking" - but some things arranged by, or for, the TV company were made at the expense of exhibitors and their cats and the integrity of the International - and were totally unacceptable.

Let's take a look at some of the things, good and bad, that were "different" at the 2006 International...



The screens with the cats numbers on them
were hung above the judging rings
"Visual" Calls To The Judging Ring

To avoid the problem of constant announcements ruining taped interviews in the show hall, the normal practice of calling cats' numbers over a loudspeaker system was abandoned in favor of a series of screens mounted over the judging rings and at various locations around the show hall.

The screens displayed the numbers of the cats being "called" to the ring. A two-tone bell sounded each time there was a change to the screens to provide a "heads up" to exhibitors to check the screens for new information.

PRO: A quieter show hall.

CON: The practical use of the screens had not been worked out and tested prior to the actual show so there were problems in logistical procedures. The display and content of the information was awkward and not as well thought out as it might have been... to the point of the unintentionally humorous message "GO HOME" being used to indicate a cat could be removed from its judging cage. On Saturday morning there was even an inadvertent error when a final call from Friday was re-posted. That led to a wee bit of scrambling by exhibitors until the error was discovered. :-)

Because the exhibitors had not been made aware of the new system prior to arriving at the show hall, they were not prepared for the change. The screens were not visible from many parts of the benching areas and even some of the ring clerks could not see their own ring's screen. Vendors felt that some exhibitors hurried their shopping because they could not see screens from the vending area. The Ding-Dong (Avon calling) audio alert tended to become irritating as the day wore on.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

  • Improve the speed at which calls are posted to the screens.
  • Provide a method of color-coding to show what information had changed when the screen is updated.
  • Provide a better method to ask owners to remove their cats from the ring..
  • Allow scripted announcements to appear at appropriate intervals.
  • Incorporate a scrolling ticker-tape style display for some information
  • Choose an audible signal for new postings that is less annoying - a single ding should be sufficient.
  • Place screens so they can be seen by their relevant ring clerk.
  • Set a screen at the end of the aisles of the Meow Mall vendors area to help exhibitors keep track of the judging while shopping.
  • A screen visible from the food concession and restroom areas would be appreciated.
  • Pre-plan and test the logistics of the screen system and include a detailed information sheet with the entry form/flyer for the 2007 International show along with a demonstration on the CFA website so exhibitors can familiarize themselves with the entire concept prior to the actual show.


Donna Cook-Henry, owner of the Best of the Best cat,
GC, GP, NW Jadon ComeFly With Me of Kenkat,
a blue Persian spay, is interviewed by the TV crew.

Interviews

There were several TV crews roaming the floor of the cat show.

A crew usually consisted of a segment producer/interviewer, a cameraman and a an audio man recording sound.

The crews were generally unobtrusive and polite, asking permission prior to taping an individual.

In the same way as the coverage of the Kentucky Derby will often include an in-depth story of the race favorite (plus a couple other entries with interesting stories), the TV crew chose several exhibitors and followed their particular cat's "journey" at the International.

When individuals are chosen for in-depth coverage in a competition, the TV company's hope is always that one of the "chosen" will end up winning, or at least doing very well in the competition. The challenge then becomes to pick the right subjects for the in-depth story.


Judges are interviewed at ringside

Near the end of the show, formal interviews were conducted with breeders holding their winning cats and discussing their breed in a small curtained area. This was an opportunity for individual breeders to promote their breed to a TV audience.

PROS: Following the personal stories of specific cats, obtaining different perspectives of exhibitors, and investigating the POV of judges could add variety and scope to the TV special.

CONS: Some exhibitors felt uncomfortable with questions about being part of the Cat-Minister event and the "game show" because CFA had not provided sufficient information about the TV event beforehand.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

  • The exhibitors need to be "in the loop" with regard to the TV agenda, details, etc.
  • CFA might want to consider asking cat breeders with TV or print interview experience to volunteer to answer questions from exhibitors regarding how to present themselves and their cats in the best way when being interviewed. We want to put our best foot forward.


The TV crew records the action in the agility ring

Taping of the Agility Competition

The TV crew were permitted into the agility ring to tape the proceedings of this exciting new addition to the International.

PROS: Recording the Agility Competition should make for excellent TV and help make the public aware of this relatively new feline sport.

CONS: Agility is a performance-oriented activity and the presence of a TV crew inside the ring was bound to be distracting to many of the entrants, cat and owner alike.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

  • Using an experienced agility cat, tape a demonstration with the crew following the cat in the ring and providing retakes and different camera angles.
  • For the actual competition, taping should occur from outside the ring.
  • Some adjustments to the agility fencing could allow for unobstructed camera view.


Interested exhibitors enjoy watching the taping live

A TV Watching Area

A small group of chairs were set up around several TV monitors in a corner of the show hall. When the crews were actively taping, the images they were recording were displayed on the monitors so people could sit and watch.

PROS: On screen you could hear what the judge was saying and see the cat close up.

People used the chairs as a rest area when the monitors were blank.

CONS: None!! :-)

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

  • Large overhead screens in addition to table monitors
  • More monitors
  • More chairs

The Creation of a Fake "Top Ten"

At the request of the TV producers, a fake "Top Ten" was assembled and "judged" for Best of the Best. It included the six cats that should have been judged for Best of the Best - plus 4 "fillers" including an Ocicat adult that was one of the individual cats the TV crew had chosen to follow throughout the judging but which had not qualified for inclusion in the top six. The cat was included for dramatic "effect". While only the proper six cats were actually judged, CFA should never have agreed to including the 4 cats that would not normally be part of the Best of the Best judging.

It should also be noted that the Ocicat kitten was actually judged to be the Best of Breed Winner but when it came time for the presentation, they used the Ocicat adult, again because it was one of the stories the TV crew had been following all along. This was not only ethically wrong, but immensely hurtful to the owner of the Ocicat kitten - and becomes one more piece of deceit that unless edited out of the final product, will mar the authenticity of the Cat-Minster TV special.

The name "Cat-Minster" implies that the International is the feline equivalent to the Westminster Dog Show. At Westminster, the 7 group-winning dogs all compete for Best In Show in a grand finale. Can you imagine the American Kennel Club agreeing to a request that 3 "extra" dogs be added to the Best In Show judging for dramatic effect? Do you think the AKC would have allowed a substitute dog be presented as Best of Breed when it hadn't actually won - just because the TV crew was following its story? Of course not!

PROS: There are no pros to these trumped up proceedings. No honest exhibitor would condone it.

CONS: Creating a Top Ten that did not in reality exist as part of the International show judging demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the integrity of the International as an event and reflects badly on everyone involved - CFA, Painless Productions, and the owners of the cats who participated in the faked circumstances. While the TV company may feel the fake Top Ten will add more drama to their coverage of the individual storyline of the cat they were following, for them to concoct the fake Top Ten and present a cat as Best of Breed which did not earn the title crosses over the line of what is truthful and ethical. The TV production company is suppose to be producing a record of a cat show, not writing a script that suits their personal agenda.

Imagine the impression the general public would have of cat shows and CFA if this footage was included in the final edit of the program and then the public became aware of the "fake" results!

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

  • The truth of the events of the International must never be compromised. Falsifying results, either by implication or presentation, is dishonest and cannot be condoned or supported.
  • CFA must request that the footage of the staged "Top Ten" not be included in the final edit of program. While it is acceptable to re-enact something that truly happened to provide better TV footage, the fake Top Ten represents an outright deception. This is something that the leadership of CFA must pursue at all costs if they are to retain any integrity with regard to the taping of the International. The executives at the Game Show Network should be notified of the concerns of CFA and the exhibitors kept up-to-date on the situation.
  • Footage of the Ocicat Adult being falsely presented as Best of Breed must be deleted and ideally new footage be shot of the winning Ocicat Kitten that can be added into the final edit so it at least receives proper credit for its accomplishment in the TV special.

Top 3 In Breed/Best of the Best Presentation


A view of the "stage" and bleachers from the benching area

The Breed of Breed and Best of the Best presentation is the grand finale of the International.

Breed wins are determined by breed points in class judging - not by finals.

In years past, a long row of cages was formed by combining 3 or 4 judging rings. The audience often spanned the entire length of the cages and was 10 people deep - because the exhibitors looked forward eagerly to the unique, exciting and prestigious presentation.

The presentation of the breed winners was done in alphabetical order. Best Kitten, Best Cat in Championship, and Best Cat in Premiership of each breed were presented by 3 judges, all at the same time. An announcer would give the cat's full names, titles, owners and where they were from plus a bit about the breed and its character. Second and Third Best of Breed would also be announced. All this was amidst much cheering and applause. Rosettes for the Best of Breed were hung on the cage, and were picked up at that time of the presentation. The Second and Third Best rosettes were available behind the stage.

At the end of the presentation of the top cats in the breed, the judges would present the top 5 cats in each of the categories - LH kitten, SH kitten, LH championship cat, SH championship cat, LH premiership cat, SH premiership cat. This is based on the scoring done during the show, and points earned for finals only - no breed points.

After that, the top cat in each category (based on the judging in the rings already completed during the show) is actually judged and the Best in Show winner is picked. Throughout the performance the presenting judge would take about each winner.

That's the way the presentation worked in 2005...

In 2006, the entire Top 3 and Best of the Best presentation was usurped by the TV crew - at the expense of the exhibitors.

Instead of the long line of cages with plenty of room for all the exhibitors to watch the presentation, the TV crew created a small stage with an equally small bleacher-style audience seating. Unfortunately, the seating was woefully inadequate and the majority of exhibitors who wished to watch the "awards ceremony" were unable to be seated.

The "presentation" was made on the stage. Only the Best of Breed was present and there was no announcements made because the TV company preferred a narration to be added in the final editing. That meant there was no announcement of the Best of Breed cats' names, owners, etc. There was no announcement of Second or Third Best of Breed. No description of the breed's unique characteristics. The owners of the cats were denied their moment of acknowledgement of their cat's accomplishment... no hearing their cat's name called... no congratulations. The judges did not talk about the cats at all.

While not permitted to talk about the cats, the judges doing the presentation were asked to do several retakes of their presentation, taking the cats out over and over, something some of the cats clearly objected to after a 3 long days of showing.

PROS: None

CONS: The exhibitors were denied the opportunity to have their cats accomplishments publicly acknowledged, something which is unique to the International and that exhibitors look forward to and enjoy. Although a reference to the change was made in the October CFA Board of Directors Meeting minutes, certainly the majority of exhibitors to the International were taken completely unawares. Such a significant change to the most prestigious and anticipated feature of the International should have been presented to the exhibitors in a clear manner PRIOR to the entry process.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

  • Reinstate the traditional presentation of the Top 3 in Breed including full announcement of each cat's name, owner, etc. and including comments by the judges.
  • Seating/space for the grande finale must be adequate for all exhibitors who wish to attend.
  • Retakes should be at the option of the cat's owner.
  • Consideration must be made to see things from the POV of all exhibitors.
  • Announce where to pick up breed ribbons.


A breeder and her cat have a moment in the spotlight

Disregard For The Comfort and Safety of the Cats

Judge Darrell Newkirk chose the Best of Breed winners from amongst the Kitten, Championship and Premiership winners for each breed. Exhibitors felt that while Darrell did a wonderful job, he was definitely rushed as he was being prompted to finish with the cats so they could move to the next phase with the TV crew.

From Darrell's ring, winning exhibitors and their cats were directed to holding rings until the on stage presentation for "Cat-Minster" was ready for them. There seem to be a lack of explanation or co-ordination regarding which "holding" ring a cat was suppose to be in or waiting time expected. It was as if even the TV people involved had no clear idea about how things were to proceed. The wait in the cages for some of the already exhausted cats was hours.

When finally moved to on stage, the judges took the cats out and "presented" them to the camera. There were repeated retakes. As one exhibitor said, she felt like the cats were treated as props with no consideration for their needs, safety or comfort.

From the presentation, the owners were than requested to take their cats for photos. The area was too open and at least one cat, already upset from the presentation, got loose from the area and was chased by TV personnel.

PROS: None

CONS: Many exhibitors involved in the Best of the Best/Breed presentation felt that the behavior of the TV crew towards them was inconsiderate and at times abusive.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

  • A CFA liaisons needs to work with the TV crew. They should have the authority and personality to be able to step in on behalf of the cats or exhibitors and intervene if the TV crew crosses a line.
  • Clearly, many people manning the equipment during taping had never seen a cat show and had no concept of how they should behave around show cats. In the future, the TV staff needs to be given instructions about how to behave around cats, what the normal procedures and the precautions are that are necessary at a cat show. This includes what constitutes a safe set-up for taking pictures of cats and not to chase a "loose cat", but to allow the owner to catch it.
  • Exhibitors need to be pre-warned about what to expect at the next International, what the format will be and what might be asked of them to facilitate taping.
  • Cat's unaccustomed to TV stage lighting, cameras and mike booms could be easily spooked. A practice area could be set up in which cats could be given time to become accustomed to an area set up with typical TV equipment so that they would be more relaxed for the "real thing".

The Reaction From The Exhibitors

Many exhibitors were dismayed at the level of influence the TV crews had on the production of the International show. Exhibitors felt disenfranchised by the format of the finale. Those who were upset that their cats did not receive recognition as in prior years had every right to be upset. Many exhibitors felt their cats were reduced to window dressing in the final presentation as opposed to being acknowledged and honored for their accomplishments.

The CFA International Is Not A Film Set

The videotaping of the International should have followed the typical pattern of documentary-style or event-based TV programming. Clearly, the objectives of the TV production crew and the objectives of cat show exhibitors were not the same. No matter how tempting it was for CFA to have a TV special of the International, the TV project should never have taken precedence over the interests of CFA's exhibitors and their cats.

The TV crew's agenda is to produce the most entertaining program possible and it may well be that because the TV special was pre-sold to the Game Show Network that there was a decision to attempt to script the program rather than record the actual event as it unfolded. The TV company's orchestration of the activity, presenting cats as part of the awards phase that clearly should not have been there, substituting a different Ocicat for the rightful winner, multiple re-takes, and "staging" for dramatic effect were simply not acceptable.

The Mistakes Made

While we could nit-pick our way through the multiple things that went wrong at this year's International as a result of the TV project, it clearly boils down to several significant problems:

  • The TV crew should never have been permitted to dictate changes in the normal procedures and sequence of events of the International, especially the final presentation of the Breeds.
  • CFA should never have allowed the TV crew to substitute their own choice as best Ocicat over the correct winner in the final presentation.
  • CFA should not have allowed the staging of a fake Top Ten.
  • While the anticipated changes to the format of the International were mentioned in CFA's October Board Minutes, such a major change should have been given a much higher profile and brought directly to the attention of the exhibitors prior to entering the show so they could have made an informed decision as to whether they wanted to participate in the new format - or not.
  • CFA failed to ensure the comfort and safety of the cats from changes instigated by the TV crew.
What's Next?

What went wrong at the 2006 International cannot be changed... so what's next? Hopefully, the TV program that will be aired will promote and spotlight each breed in CFA, presenting the breeders and exhibitors of CFA as a dedicated group of people enjoying their hobby and displaying their love of cats. And perhaps most importantly, CFA must ensure that the falsified footage is not part of the TV program that makes it to air.

Moving Forward...

Producing a cat show the size of the International is a mind-bending task that requires a massive investment of time and energy by the members of the show committee. The feelings of gratitude and appreciation normally shown to these individuals by the exhibitors present unfortunately were overshadowed in 2006 by the disappointment felt by many.

Exhibitors were understandably unhappy at the concessions made to the TV crew, and voiced their concerns both during the show and in the days afterward.

Upon returning home, the unofficial CFA email list crackled with posts from upset exhibitors. President of CFA, Pam Delebar, sent an email to the list apologizing for what went wrong and assuring people that the same mistakes would not be made next year.

Too many exhibitors felt CFA compromised their ethics and failed to protect the exhibitors' interests and the safety of their cats.

The stated goal of producing this TV show was to promote pedigreed cats to a new audience but this must not be accomplished at the expense of losing the trust and support of our current exhibitors and breeders. Neither must any of the "faked" footage be permitted into the final edit of the show. The perceived advantage of having a TV special of the International must never again take precedence over our cats, our exhibitors, and the truth of the events of the International.

Creating a TV event equivalent to Westminster is a positive step forward for cat shows. While this year's International may have been more of a misstep, it should be used as a learning experience to guide the taping of next year's International so that a great result can be had by both the TV production team and the exhibitors at the show.

Let's hope that 2007 will bring us the most successful and enjoyable International to date.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The CFA International 2007 was cancelled.

 


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