One of "Good Morning America's" favorite guests, Jack Hanna, has just released a memoir called "Jungle Jack: My Wild Life," which chronicles more than five decades of his passion, devotion and love of animals.
"GMA" was the first national TV program to feature Hanna and his amazing animals. He was an instant hit, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the chapter below, Hanna describes how he got started in TV, and he shares some of his favorite funniest moments from "GMA" and "Late Night With David Letterman."
Chapter 13: Lights, Camera, Animals!
All this television stuff started, unintentionally, after I got to Columbus. Seeing me in some colorful local news interviews, the producer of a cable talk show asked me if I'd host some animal episodes. As an opportunity to promote the zoo, I accepted.
My next stop on the local circuit was Hanna's Ark, a family-type show on WBNS (CBS) that featured my daughter Kathaleen and me as co-hosts. With her trademark pigtails, she was only eleven but stole the show every time. She took the job very seriously, learning not only her lines but mine as well, to help me when I would forget. And she was completely fearless with the animals. She never flinched when a huge, black, hairy tarantula was placed on her arm, or when she was filming five feet from a spitting cobra. At Sea World one of the segments we filmed was the water skiing show. While one of the performers was skiing, he held Kathaleen who then climbed on top of his shoulders. Suzi said the ballet lessons paid off —she even pointed her toes! Though she certainly had her share of scratches and bites, she never said a word about it. We would open with an animal at the zoo, then go to footage of the same species in the wild, then come back and close from the zoo. I loved the concept, and it was fun while it lasted.
After two years and forty-eight episodes, Hanna's Ark was shelved. I was somewhat upset at the time, since the station announced that we didn't have enough animals to tie in to the wild because we were a small zoo. Tell the people that Hee Haw was creeping up on us—which it was—but don't tell me, a zoo director with some six thousand animals, that we don't have enough animals left.
But ending Hanna's Ark turned out to be a blessing. Shortly afterward, Channel 4, the local NBC affiliate, offered me a series of one-hour wildlife specials. These shows enabled me to learn (as I taught) about wild animals at the farthest reaches of the earth. We covered Egypt, East Africa, China, India, the Galápagos Islands, Alaska, Antarctica—you name it. And the result was an avalanche of invaluable publicity for the zoo.
A special bonus to our agreement was a small weekly bit every Friday called Zoo Day. I'd take an animal to the studio, or a crew came to us, and we just talked about what was going on at the zoo. It was a fantastic weekend reminder.
Angela Pace, the anchorperson for my first five years of Zoo Days, was, at the beginning, deadly opposed to the segment—she thought it had no place on a serious newscast. But we hit it off so well and had so many good times together that it did not take long for her to come around.