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Riding Along With Series to Save the Animals

June 14, 1999|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Here's a worthy program about animals that no one will confuse with "The Chimp Channel," the TBS network's mindless new broad comedy that tries getting big yucks from costumed apes that are bounced around and given unfunny human voice-overs.

It's "Hollywood Animal Crusaders," a unique new ride-along series featuring live-action animal cruelty probes led by Chris DeRose, founder of L.A.-based Last Chance for Animals, which joined Good Story Productions in creating this hour that runs tonight on cable's Animal Planet network.

In addition to DeRose, a former actor, the Crusaders consist of celebrities and others who are seen responding here, along with animal control authorities, to calls for help regarding alleged mistreatment of animals.

Although this is not a pretty picture, the purpose here is not to shock viewers but to educate them to a significant problem. Not that even all activists see that problem identically. In one case here, for example, there's no consensus when DeRose and another member of the group disagree on whether the alleged cruelty was intentional or the act of an animal lover who had acted carelessly or out of ignorance.

"Hollywood Animal Crusaders" has the look of a pilot, and granting it regular-series status would fill a void in a medium in which shows about companion animals address the rescues, adoptions and how-to's of daily care, but rarely instances of cruelty.

Low-budget production values and an intrusive up-tempo music track don't help the cause. Yet there's nothing here that more money couldn't fix. Bottom line, this is a show about compassion, and that makes it special.

"Hollywood Animal Crusaders" airs at 6 and 9 tonight on Animal Planet.

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