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'Meerkat' Maintains After Cast Deaths

The show must go on, even without its major stars.

That's the word from Animal Planet, which green-lit a fourth season of its animal soap opera Meerkat Manor, even though the featured Whiskers family of furry mammals fatally lost its matriarch and leader Flower, as well as Flower's outcast daughter Mozart, during the current third season.

In fact, the death of Flower, who was bitten by a snake as she tried to protect her young babies during the show's Sept. 28 season debut episode, seems to have energized ratings for the series. The series' Oct. 19 episode, for example, drew a season high 0.8 household rating and 904,000 viewers, slightly above the series average 0.7 and 808,000 viewers.

“It seems to have helped the ratings — not that death is a good thing — but audiences could have said, 'Well, Flower is dead, so I don't want to watch the show,' ” said Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet Media and Discovery Kids Media. “But instead, what we've seen is even higher numbers since her death rather than lower, which is a testament to the storytelling.”

That's not to say that viewers have forgotten about the powerful and aggressive leader. More than 7,500 questions from Meerkat Manor fans were submitted during a live chat on the network's Web site (www.animal.discovery.com) following the Flower Death episode. Kaplan also said that several user-generated videos memorializing Flower have also popped up on YouTube.

The network even hosted a mock memorial for Flower in New York two weeks ago, with 100 members of the press in attendance.

“We've been surprised at the intensity and degree to which the show has made it into the pop culture,” she said.

It remains to be seen whether the death of Mozart, who was to meet her fate in the Oct. 26 episode, will give the show the same ratings boost going into the series' Nov. 2 finale.

Yet despite the loss of Flower and Mozart, Kaplan feels viewers will continue to tune in to the watch the remaining Whiskers clan in the fourth season.

“From what we're hearing that's going on [with current production] and what we think we know about meerkat society and about the meerkats that survive, we think we can,” she said. “We think that the Meerkats themselves are such compelling creatures. Given the remarkable access that we have to them, we think we have the ability to tell these intimate character-driven stories for a while to come.”