These days, more real-life drama necessitates more dedicated TV shows. At least, that’s the case for Joe Exotic, the leopard print-wearing former zookeeper, and his archrival Carole Baskin, whose lives are mired with controversy, lawsuits, and big, exotic felines.
When the docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness first hit Netflix a year ago, viewers were riveted by the kooky characters. While its highly-anticipated second season drops on Nov. 17, another take of the eccentric “Tiger King” character is in the works: Joe Exotic, Peacock’s new limited series. Though it was initially slated for TV broadcast with NBC, as of May 13, 2021, the show is now exclusive to the company’s streaming service. Here’s everything we know about Peacock’s Joe Exotic so far.
The Joe Exotic Plot
The drama series will be based on the Wondery podcast Joe Exotic: Tiger King hosted by journalist Robert Moor. It goes deep into the beginnings of and rivalry between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, whom audiences met in the Netflix docuseries. When fellow cat-lover and Big Cat Rescue cofounder Baskin finds out that Exotic is breeding exotic cats for profit, she tries to shut down his operation. Unfortunately, she has an alleged dark past of her own, and Exotic attempts to expose her supposed hypocrisy. Dangerous felines, crimes, and two sort-of fashion icons — one in a mullet, one in a flower crown — facing off make this drama a must-watch.
Their real-life feud is still unfolding today, culminating in legal battles that Baskin seems to be winning. In January 2020, Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison for 17 counts of wildlife-related crimes and two counts of attempted murder-for-hire against Baskin. In June 2020, Baskin reportedly gained control of Exotic’s zoo from a trademark infringement case she sued him over. However, she’s since sold the property.
Susan Rovner, chairman of entertainment content at NBC Universal Television and Streaming, reportedly said, “Joe Exotic is shaping up to be a bold and provocative drama.” Etan Frankel (Shameless) is writing and producing the show alongside Wondery’s Hernan Lopez, Marshall Lewy, and Aaron Hart. The first four episodes will be directed by Justin Tipping (Flatbush Misdemeanors).
The Joe Exotic Cast
In November 2019, Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon was cast as activist-slash-villain (depending on how you see it) Baskin. The Emmy-winning actress was the first name to be attached to the project. In July 2021, it was announced that Kyle MacLachlan of Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, and Twin Peaks fame would star as Baskin’s ever-supportive third husband, Howard Baskin. As for Baskin’s daughter, Jamie Murdoch, Marlo Kelly (Dare Me) will fill the role.
John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) bagged the role of Joe Exotic in April 2021. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the Tony-award winner was apparently “thrilled” to play the “modern folk antihero,” adding, “Joe and I are the same age, and like him, I grew up queer in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, so I feel like I know a little bit about this guy and his desperate attempt to conquer an inhospitable world.” Calling it a “chance of a lifetime” to People on Nov. 11, Mitchell teased the show. “This adaptation is going to surprise people because you really see the two leads as real people,” he said.
Rounding out the cast are Nat Wolff (Palo Alto, Naked Brothers Band) and Sam Keeley (Misfits) as Exotic’s ex-husbands Travis Maldonado and John Finlay, respectively, and Brian Van Holt (Deputy) as zoo employee John Reinke. In June, William Fichtner (Prison Break) took over Dennis Quaid’s role as reality show producer Rick Kirkman. Dean Winters and Joel Marsh Garland also join the cast as Jeff Lowe and James Garretson, respectively.
The Joe Exotic Effect
While there have been talks about multiple Joe Exotic projects, it seems like some of them are on pause or canceled altogether. Amazon was supposed to release its own version with Nicholas Cage, but it was recently shelved. Explaining the decision to Variety, the actor revealed that “[Amazon] felt at one point that it was lightning in a bottle, but that point has since faded into the distance, and it’s no longer relevant." Meanwhile, there are no updates on the rumored Ryan Murphy-Rob Lowe tandem and whether that’s pushing through.
Still, another season of the Netflix docuseries is about to drop, but Baskin is not happy with the platform’s portrayal of her. So much so that on Nov. 1, she filed a lawsuit against Netflix. She and her husband also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order that, if approved, would prohibit “any use of film footage of the Baskins and the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tiger King 2 or in any related promotion or advertising.”
As for Peacock’s project, no release dates — nor lawsuits — have been announced, but some set photos were leaked. According to TMZ, Baskin was “stunned” in the best possible way to see McKinnon transform into her.
Still, Baskin had a request for the Peacock production: Use CGI instead of live animals. In a statement she released last March, she wrote, "Big Cat Rescue implores Kate McKinnon to not use real big cats and cubs in the making of her series,” adding that she hopes McKinnon “has a passion for animals” and “that her series will focus on the horrible lives captive big cats lead when exploited by breeders like Joe Exotic.”
The release date and trailer are yet to be announced, but this post will be updated as more details are released.
This article was originally published on