Discovery Communications’ Animal Planet is set to be schooled with Life At Vet U, a format from Colorado-based High Noon Entertainment. The series provides a revealing behind-the-scenes look at what life is like for fourth-year veterinary students at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet).
Executive produced by High Noon’s Jim Berger, Scott Feeley, Sarah Presta and Michal Call, and Animal Planet’s Dawn Sinsel, the 6 x 60-minute series is set to premiere on Animal Planet on Oct. 1 at 10 p.m. ET, preceded by back-to-back episodes of another High Noon-produced vet show, Dr. Dee: Alaska Vet.
Life At Vet U follows six fourth-year students at Penn Vet’s two internationally renowned teaching hospitals, Ryan Hospital for Companion Animals and New Bolton Center hospital for large animals, as they draw closer to graduation.
“There’s a lot of drama in graduation because a lot of times they don’t know where they’re going. So, this really becomes the culmination of four extremely difficult medical years and here they go, off into the world,” Jim Berger, CEO of High Noon Entertainment, tells realscreen.
And to amp up that drama, High Noon vet school subjects are equipped with their very own “diary” cameras for when they’re living their lives outside the operating room.
“There’s a lot of self-shot material, so that’s authentic. It’s not something we shot. They shot it themselves and you don’t see that a lot in these kinds of shows,” says Berger.
And he would know. His prodco, which is celebrating its 20th year, has been producing vet-related series since it first started out and now, with the production of Life At Vet U, that experience has come around full-circle. High Noon began its career two decades ago with the show Emergency Vets, which aired on Animal Planet. Fifteen years ago (in 2001) it produced its first vet school series, Vet School Confidential, which was filmed at Michigan State University. And today, it’s in the second season on its successful Dr. Dee series and ready to premiere Vet U.
On High Noon’s decision to revisit the lives of vet students after 15 years, Berger says the space has changed quite a bit. Today’s vet is very different and significant strides having been made in medical tech, such as prosthetics and lasers, and both invasive and non-invasive surgical procedures. To that end, the company is producing a companion web series to Life At Vet U called Tools of the Trade. It delves deeper into the tech side, featuring high-tech diagnostics and procedures that viewers won’t see in the broadcast series — how a dog with a mass whose had its skull re-created by a 3D printer so the neurology team could strategize prior to surgery, or a groundbreaking robotic CT scan machine for horses.
“The medicine has changed, it’s improved and it’s fascinating, and the mix of male to female has changed (more female vets),” says Berger. “So we thought, 15 years later, it’s a different state of the industry. It’s a different time, and people are different today.”
While the veterinary discipline has changed, the challenges involved in filming in a vet school have not. On top of having to work around the students’ respective schedules, there are always production challenges around the facility because, admits Berger, they’re not big giant clinics or facilities.
“They’re university facilities. They’ve got a lot of great access and equipment, but the hallways can be narrow, the exam rooms can be small. So the biggest challenge is moving your crew around.”
Beyond that, the animals themselves can offer up their own range of interesting production challenges. On one notable occasion, a zebra named Zippy attended New Bolton Center to get his hoof trimmed and a dental procedure done. Being a wild animal, Zippy was unpredictable with a penchant for biting (he’d bitten someone’s finger off on a previous visit), so, to stay safe, the camera crew had to rig GoPros in the room where Zippy was getting anesthetized and shot from the room’s entrance until the creature was safely unconscious.
Finally, there’s also the need to be sensitive and respect the power of the human-animal bond.
“There’s so much emotion in these clinics and animal hospitals, even on the teaching side,” says Berger.
- Animal Planet’s Life at Vet U premieres Oct. 1 at 10 p.m. ET
- Check out an exclusive clip below