The Dark Reason Animal Planet Canceled Call Of The Wildman

The Animal Planet hit reality series "Call of the Wildman" premiered in 2011 and was on the air for four seasons before it was suddenly canceled by the network. The focus of the show was Ernie "Turtleman" Brown, Jr., an adventurous outdoorsman from Kentucky as he purportedly rescued wild animals from all sorts of hair-raising situations. Exactly how much of what Turtleman did in the series was real or was staged had been called into question on several occasions. 

In a move away from strictly educational programming, Animal Planet produced the series in partnership with Sharp Entertainment, known for what's sometimes called "guided reality," or heavy producer interference in what's ostensibly presented as real happenings. At the time that the "Call of the Wildman" cancellation was announced, though, Canadian Animal Planet Network executives said it was not because the show was faked but because of poor ratings, instead, per the Canadian website, The Dodo

Possibly explaining the move, before the TV show's sudden cancellation, Mother Jones published an investigative report called "Drugs, Death, Neglect: Behind the Scenes at Animal Planet," suggesting there was more to the story: According to the Mother Jones article, there had been widespread animal abuse during the hit show's production and some creatures were killed. 

For this reason, "Call of the Wildman" production was likely brought down not because of a decline in viewership, as Animal Planet Canada claimed. Instead, Animal Planet network brass likely hoped to distance themselves from the production and minimize negative publicity.

Wildman ratings were strong

According to Mother Jones, "Call of the Wildman" ratings were not an issue in the seasons leading up to the show's sudden cancellation, and the series continued to draw millions of viewers up until 2013, the year before the show got axed in the U.S. Per The Futon Critic, Ernie "Turtleman" Brown, Jr.'s show was among Animal Planet's most successful franchises. After the Mother Jones article, published between Season 3 and Season 4 of the show, viewers stayed away, though. That year, their total number tumbled nearly half, as Mother Jones elsewhere writes.

Among other allegations, Mother Jones uncovered evidence that wild animals were caged and drugged during the show's production, in violation of federal law. Some animals presented in the series had been trapped before taping began, and then caught again by Brown, Jr. while cameras rolled. There were also numerous issues with "Wildman's" legal documentation in the state of Kentucky. Perhaps most importantly, though, some animals seen in the show were injured or killed while taping.

For these reasons and more, a "Wildman" production assistant identified in the Mother Jones article as "Jamie" said the series is "100% fake." But when Animal Planet executives announced the series was no more, they used viewership as their justification, at least in Canada, where there was reportedly no mention of the damning Mother Jones article in the network statement. In Canada, the series was shuttered between the 3rd and 4th seasons, whereas in the U.S. it ran for one more largely ignored final year.

Series producers were fined

After "Call of the Wildman" was canceled, the USDA ruled that the Animal Planet series had violated the Animal Welfare Act for displaying animals without the correct licensing,and at least one producer was fined $180,000 among other financial penalties (via The U.S. Sun). Some series producer fines were as little as $1,800. Meanwhile, those involved in the series blamed potential animal abuse on subcontractors. 

In response to the Mother Jones article, the show's production company, Sharp Entertainment held an interview with a crisis manager, experienced in dealing with similar high-profile controversies. In that interview, Dan Adler, a Sharp senior vice president said (via Mother Jones): "We've always made the humane treatment of animals our top priority." Show producers admitted some rescues were staged, but said the animals involved in the series were likely going to be euthanized, so in that sense, the series provided a service. They also said the allegations outlined in the article were under internal investigation. 

Animal mistreatment aside, in 2015 Brown Jr. and others involved in the production of the show were hit with a lawsuit that alleged trespassing and damage to property during series production, per Complex. Through all the accusations, Ernie "Turtleman" Brown, Jr. still made live appearances and in 2017 he drew a crowd of an estimated 1,000 in West Virginia based on the show's popularity, per The Exponent Telegram.

More recently, in 2022, Turtleman was badly injured while chopping down a tree, according to a Facebook post from the reality TV star. There was never any official statement from American Animal Planet executives regarding the show's abrupt U.S. cancellation.