LOS ANGELES: Instead of an alarm clock, they wake to the sounds of elephants and tigers. They walk their dogs, but it's often to go see the crocodiles and echidnas. And when they worry, it is about creatures like the Tazmanian devil.
Robert and Bindi Irwin live in the center of the 1,500-acre Australia Zoo near Brisbane, a thriving legacy to their late father and crocodile hunter Steve Irwin.
They are also the stars of "Growing Up Wild," one of several pet series FremantleMedia plans for its new YouTube channel called The Pet Collective.
Bindi, 13, says she hopes the show generates interest in conservation because "every time we lose an animal species, it's like losing a brick from the house. Pretty soon, the house just falls over."
Robert, 8, wants people to know: "Not all animals actually make good pets. Be careful what animals you actually choose and always protect animals."
Fremantle, the company behind "American Idol," ''The X Factor" and the international "Got Talent" franchise, is already a huge YouTube partner, said Richard Vargas of Los Angeles, senior vice president of development and production for London-based Fremantle.
"There are over 3.2 billion views of Fremantle content on YouTube today," he said. "That's where our audiences are going, from TV to the new media world, so we are moving there as well."
The pet lovers channel and "Growing Up Wild" debuted on May 31. Through the week, The Pet Collective debuted other new shows like "The Litter," the story of a litter of kittens narrated by Khloe Kardashian; "The Unadoptables," looking at hard-to-adopt pets; and "Master & Pet," a scripted comedy-drama about a woman and her cat who seems to be masterminding her dating life.
A new 5-minute episode of each series will air weekly. There will be about 10 episodes in each series and they will remain in rotation for a year.
By the end of summer, Fremantle expects to have 20 hours of programming on YouTube. At 12 episodes an hour, that's 240 individual episodes.
Vargas wouldn't disclose how much Fremantle is investing in the effort, hinting only that it wasn't as much as traditional TV programming, but not a bad budget.
YouTube, owned by Google Inc., launched its original 100-channel initiative in 2011 and invited Hollywood to come up with ideas. Pets and their popularity seemed a perfect match for Fremantle and its production abilities, Vargas said.
Some series will feature audience-produced video, but "Growing Up Wild" features TV-style production. "They are such an engaging duo. It's the Irwins naturally telling the camera and the audience their anecdotes about these animals. It's not like they are reading scripts or anything. They are really passionate about the subject," Vargas said.
After their episode on the red panda, "I wanted a red panda for myself," he said.
The kids talk a lot about Irwin, who died in 2006 when he was hit in the chest by a stingray's barb while snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. They are proud of him and his accomplishments.
Both kids want to carry on his work, especially species preservation. Bindi is the teacher, Robert the paleontologist.
"My dad always said this and I thought it was very profound. He said, 'I always understand crocodiles because they will always try and kill you no matter what. You know what they're going to do because they are always going to try and kill you," Bindi said.
People might be trying to kill you too, she said, but "they will try to be your friend first. You can always count on animals to do the same thing and have the same personality and you can trust that. It's a trait that some people don't seem to have."
Of all the animals at the zoo, Robert likes the crocodiles the best. There are over 100 at the zoo, both salt and fresh water.
"They are almost like modern day dinosaurs," he said, and while he likes them all, his favorite is a 16-foot-long beast named Acco.
Bindi, named after one of her father's favorite crocodiles, said she loves them and the snakes, but her favorites are the echidnas, animals that use their long noses and tongues to eat ants and termites. "They are very soft and look like black blobs with lots of spikes," she said. The echidna and the platypus are the only two egg-laying mammals in the world, she added.
In what the zoo calls the echidna experience, visitors can put food on their toes and the animals will eat it. "It tickles and they laugh and it makes the best photos," Bindi said.
Their own TV-viewing habits run to documentaries — especially if they are about dinosaurs, Robert said. But, Bindi added, "every now and then, you need a good dose of SpongeBob (SquarePants)."
Speaking of Hollywood, one of the new series still in the planning stages focuses on a canine reporter who prowls the red carpets, looking at celebrity footwear, Vargas said.
And how about talent, since that is what Fremantle does best?
"Further down the line, that's definitely something we'd consider. ... 'Pet Idol' or 'Pets Got Talent' may well be something we'll be working on in the future," Vargas said.
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