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.
With only a few seconds until we were on, Charlie let the fox down without saying a word and reached into his pocket for a handkerchief to smother his bleeding finger. "Today, we have Jack Hanna with us from the Columbus Zoo," he said, cool and on cue, without any reference to the bite.
Meanwhile, I was holding a cougar, and the fox was running all over the set. Charlie asked me some questions very professionally, while I tried hard not to look at his finger, which was bleeding like a stuck pig.
"There weren't many things Charlie and I fought over; we didn't usually try to one-up the other. But every now and then we would fight over doing the Jack Hanna spot." —Joan Lunden
The minute the show was over, Charlie just asked me what kind of shots he needed, before rushing out the door to a doctor. I told him tetanus shots, but I did not mention that foxes can carry rabies. A photographer from the New York Post was there, and Charlie got a lot of mileage from the bite in the next day's paper. I was on Late Night the following week, and, predictably, Letterman had a few laughs at Charlie's and my expense.
Since that first appearance in 1983, I've continued to appear regularly on Good Morning America, now about once each month. The agreement that we have with Good Morning America is a prime example of how the public has changed in its perception of zoos. We're more concerned with preserving species than we are with showing off exotic animals. GMA wanted the viewer to learn something about animals (often about threatened or endangered species) and still enjoy the animal as well. (For Letterman, you can just turn that around.)
"It was fun television, but we were all impacted by Jack's love of animals, his dedication to educating people about animals, and his passion for protecting animals in zoos and in the wild." —Joan Lunden
Many people think that I earn big bucks from all the television shows I do, including Letterman and GMA. I am there to represent the Columbus Zoo and the animals, not to make a million. The expenses—which, with animal travel, can be considerable—are covered by the networks, not taxpayer dollars. But the amount of TV time that we accumulate in a year would come to millions of dollars if we had to buy it in advertising.