Even Netflix’s TV Rivals Are Capitalizing on Tiger King’s Surprise Success

From specials to sketches, the docuseries is giving programmers ammunition during the COVID-19 crisis

Chloe Fineman dressed as Carole Baskin with a photo of a tiger behind her
Shows like Saturday Night Live have used Tiger King's runaway success to fuel their own programming. Saturday Night Live
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

Key insights:

It’s not just Netflix that’s benefiting from the unexpected success of its docuseries Tiger King.

The whole TV entertainment ecosystem, including NBC’s sketch comedy mainstay Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central comedians and broadcasters like Fox, is creating programming inspired by the runaway hit. Tiger King, which follows the bizarre world of big-cat enthusiasts like Joe Exotic and his long-standing feud with animal rights activist Carole Baskin, first premiered on Netflix less than a month ago.

Fox is the latest TV programmer to take advantage of the show’s buzz. At 9 p.m. ET tonight, the broadcaster will air an hourlong special produced by TMZ. Titled TMZ Investigates: Tiger King—What Really Went Down?, it will center on subjects seen in the series and will include new interviews and additional footage.

As networks look for content in the wake of coronavirus-related production shutdowns, many of them are looking at Tiger King-themed programming in the wake of the Netflix series, which debuted March 20. Tiger King has offered up plenty of fodder for late-night and daytime talk shows, including Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Lights Out With David Spade, as well as The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Spade, whose remotely produced series includes a segment of “lo-fi” interviews conducted via video conference call, has devoted multiple episodes to Tiger King, including video interviews with Exotic’s ex-husband John Finlay and his former animal keeper, Kelci “Saff” Saffery.

Saturday Night Live, which returned this weekend with an episode produced entirely remotely, also took advantage of Tiger King’s popularity. Featured cast member Chloe Fineman impersonated Baskin during a MasterClass Quarantine Edition sketch, while remote host Tom Hanks referenced the series in his opening monologue.

Tiger King has stirred up plenty of controversy, but it’s undeniably the first major hit of the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, as non-essential employees have been ordered to remain at home to limit the spread of the illness. The series has spurred memes, jokes, TikTok challenges and has become one of few near-universal cultural touchstones as other tentpoles like live sports have been wiped off the programming calendar.

The series has remained on Netflix’s No. 1 program for nearly three weeks and was in ten days was viewed by a near-record 34.3 million accounts, according to the measurement firm Nielsen, nearly as many as the third season of the series’ sci-fi series Stranger Things.

So it’s no surprise that even Netflix itself is looking to continue capitalizing on the series’ overwhelming success. On Sunday, the streaming service released a special eighth episode of the docuseries, titled The Tiger King and I, that featured actor Joel McHale interviewing the docuseries’ subjects via video calls to talk about the response to the series.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.