My next appearance was again in the studio, with two lion cubs and a sandhill crane. Kathleen Sullivan was the host and that crane was flapping its huge wings so much that Kathleen's hair was blowing like she was in a wind tunnel. The cubs were crawling all over my lap, and I just went on with the interview as though nothing was happening.
What I was going through was nothing compared to Debbie Casto's ordeal the night before. Debbie, our marketing director at the time, had just been kicked out of the Plaza Athénée Hotel. Around ten o'clock, she had taken one of the lion cubs for a walk on the marble floor of the hotel's foyer, and somebody got uptight. Debbie wound up sleeping in the manager's office on a cot with the two cubs.
Anyway, that particular show cemented Good Morning America's relationship with the Columbus Zoo. Producer Sonya Selby-Wright suggested having me appear on a monthly basis, and at the same time GMA officially "adopted" the Columbus Zoo with the twins' second birthday party. An aardvark and a couple of baby wallabies were presented on the air to hosts David Hartman and Joan Lunden, with the understanding that GMA would adopt them, which includes the cost of feeding the animals for a year.
"Every single time Jack was going to be on, I'd come home and say to my kids, 'Guess who's going to be on next Thursday?' They would yell, 'Jack Hanna!' Jack was the guest, the star that they always wanted to see." —Joan Lunden
For the first segment under the new arrangement, Joan Lunden traveled out to the zoo. We greeted her at the front gate with a welcoming committee that looked like a Noah's Ark with zookeepers. Joan loves animals, and aside from an embarrassing moment when Oscar the gorilla disrespectfully nailed her with his infamous crap toss, she had a great time touring the zoo.
It makes it much easier for everyone when a TV personality likes the animals that I bring on, especially on live television. There are no rehearsals, so it's hard to predict a tense situation, and, of course, it's a well-known fact that animals react differently to tension in human beings.
Charlie Gibson, who took over as co-host from David Hartman, had a nasty moment, just before we went on. It was Charlie's first week, it was a brand-new set, and it was my first appearance with him. There was a large group of television reporters on the set, and I'd brought along a cougar, a red-tailed hawk, and a fox for my talk about North American animals. "People ask me, 'What's it like to be Jack's producer?' You can't produce Jack. You point him in the right direction, and you pray." —Patty Neger
About thirty seconds before our cue to go on, I picked up the fox , and it tried to nip me a little, nothing too bad. I held it firmly in my lap, and as Charlie sat down opposite me, he asked to hold the fox. I could not say no—actually, I could have and should have, but I didn't. I handed Charlie the fox, and it bit him hard on the index finger.