Tiger King

Tiger King
Tiger King, Murder, Mayhem and Madness publicity image.jpg
GenreTrue crime
Directed by
StarringJoe Exotic
Carole Baskin
Bhagavan Antle
John Finlay
Rick Kirkham
John Reinke
Saff Saffery
Jeff Lowe
Howard Baskin
Travis Maldonado
Dillon Passage
Tim Stark
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes8
Executive producer(s)
CinematographyDamien Drake
  • Doug Abel
  • Nicholas Biagetti
  • Dylan Hansen-Fliedner
  • Daniel Koehler
  • Geoffrey Richman
Running time41–48 minutes
Picture format4K (Ultra HD)
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
External links

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (titled onscreen as simply Tiger King) is a 2020 American true crime documentary miniseries about the life of zookeeper Joe Exotic.[1] It was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020.[2] The series focuses on the small but deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists like Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, and collectors such as Exotic, whom Baskin accuses of abusing and exploiting wild animals.

The series received acclaim from critics, and according to Nielsen ratings, was watched by 34.3 million people over its first ten days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date.


The series focuses on the little-known, deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists and collectors in America, exploring the private zoos and sanctuaries they have set up for these unusual and deadly animals. The primary focus is Joe Exotic, the eccentric owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (a.k.a. G. W. Zoo) in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and his years-long bitter feud with Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Baskin claims to be an animal rights activist whose mission is to provide a sanctuary for big cats raised in captivity, but Joe Exotic (whose real name starts as Joseph Schreibvogel and changes several times to eventually become Joseph Maldonado-Passage) says that she is simply a rival zookeeper who wants her competition shut down. The two exchange threatening videos, legal allegations, protests, and targeted harrassment campaigns, in which PETA and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service become involved. Joe Exotic goes so far as to suggest that Baskin was involved in the disappearance of Don Lewis, her second husband, possibly in a homicidal capacity.

Joe Exotic's personal life becomes a subject of interest, especially his unofficial three-way same-sex marriage with Travis Maldonado and John Finlay and his subsequent relationships with them and his legal marriages to Maldonado and a third man, Dillon Passage. His 2016 run for President of the United States and 2018 run for Governor of Oklahoma are documented with the assistance of his campaign manager, Joshua Dial. Producer Rick Kirkham recounts the rise and fall of "Joe Exotic TV", a sort of podcast that Kirkham was hoping to develop into a TV series until his footage is mysteriously destroyed. The series then records the events leading up to Joe Exotic's conviction under federal murder-for-hire statutes when it comes to light that he paid a hitman in an attempt to murder Baskin; his conviction also includes violations of the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, and results in a 22-year federal prison sentence.

Other characters from the exotic animal community are introduced, including Bhagavan Antle, an animal park operator and alleged personality cult leader; Mario Tabraue, a former drug lord who is involved in animal trafficking; Jeff Lowe, a Las Vegas playboy to whom Joe Exotic turns over his zoo for legal reasons; and James Garretson, who became a confidential informant for the federal government and a key figure in making the case against Joe Exotic. Former G. W. Zoo employees such as manager John Reinke and animal wrangler Saff Saffery conclude the series by commenting that the animals themselves were forgotten amongst all the interpersonal fighting, and that no party has truly come out victorious.[3]


No.TitleDirected byOriginal release date
1"Not Your Average Joe"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
2"Cult of Personality"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
3"The Secret"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
4"Playing with Fire"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
5"Make America Exotic Again"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
6"The Noble Thing to Do"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
7"Dethroned"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)


No.TitleOriginal release date
8"The Tiger King and I"April 12, 2020 (2020-04-12)
Special after-show hosted by Joel McHale


Critical response

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 89% based on 75 reviews, with an average rating of 7.88/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "A bizarre true crime story you have to see to believe, Tiger King is a messy and captivating portrait of obsession gone terribly wrong."[4] On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score to reviews from mainstream publications, the series has an average score of 75 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5]

Variety magazine's Caroline Framke called the series "messy yet compelling" and that for "those who love Netflix's particular flavor of true crime and docuseries, [...] Tiger King will undoubtedly scratch a particular itch."[6] Joshua Rivera at The Verge said that "[e]very minute of Tiger King yields some new surprise, an unbelievable turn or charismatic stranger with incredible stories to tell."[7]

Audience viewership

According to Nielsen, the series was watched by 34.3 million people over its first 10 days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date.[8] It has been suggested that its viewership success was aided by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, which caused many global viewers to be restricted to their homes around the time of its release.[9]

Response from those depicted


As a result of the show, multiple sportspeople who had previously owned exotic pets were questioned about their actions.[10] Retired boxer Mike Tyson said that he was "foolish" and "wrong" to have kept two tigers in his home in the 1990s.[11] Retired professional basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, who appears in the show saying he bought two tigers from Joe Exotic, said in an interview after the show's release that he had "never had any business dealings with him".[12]

Carole Baskin

Carole Baskin and her husband felt betrayed by filmmakers, stating she was told the discussion of Joe Exotic and Baskin's missing husband were just for context.[13] In a post on the Big Cat Rescue website, Baskin said that the show "has a segment [in the third episode] devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago" and that the series "presents this without any regard for the truth."[14] Baskin has never been charged with anything related to Don's disappearance and has always denied anything to do with it.[15] In partial response to Baskin, director Goode stated while he felt Baskin had the right intention, he questioned if "it was fair to keep these tigers in cages", adding that the tigers "pace neurotically" and that "Sometimes you wonder whether or not one should humanely euthanize these cats instead of [letting them] suffer in cages".[16] Baskin preemptively answered that "... our goal is to end having them in cages and have no need for a sanctuary like ours. Our federal bill, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, would stop the cub petting that drives the breeding and end ownership as pets in back yards."[16]

The Independent’s Kathleen Walsh argued that the show’s treatment of, and the public reaction to, Baskin has been misogynistic: "The series provides example after example of Exotic’s violence, cruelty, and narcissism, while the evidence against Baskin (compelling enough as it is framed in the series) is circumstantial. Maybe Baskin did kill her husband—and the third episode of the series is devoted to the evidence pointing to this conclusion—but so far there is little more than speculation to say that she did. Meanwhile, the series shows clips from Exotic’s erstwhile YouTube series in which he poses alongside a blow-up doll, Baskin in effigy, shoving a dildo into its mouth and shooting it in the head."[17] Elle noted that Baskin was portrayed as hypocritical for keeping the tigers in captivity instead of releasing them without explaining that doing so was not an option—being captive-bred from mixed stock, as well as in-effect domesticated, meant they were unsuited to either survive in the wild or rebuild regional populations.[17] Elle also noted that Baskin was the only source in the series explaining why keeping the wild animals was abusive.[17]

"Goode brings to Tiger King the intellectual rigor and social responsibility of ... a nightclub and hotel developer", Peter Frick-Wright, who had produced Cat People, a podcast series covering the American big-cat industry, wrote in Outside. He found the series particularly unfair to Baskin, pointing that in focusing on her husband's disappearance so much it failed to distinguish her from Exotic and Antle, barely mentioning that Big Cat Rescue only accepts tigers confiscated by law enforcement or from owners who could no longer handle them, owners who had to sign a contract with heavy financial penalties if they owned another big cat or were even photographed with one, a proviso not mentioned in the series. Baskin also forbids volunteers or staff from touching the animals; they are fired for doing so, Frick-Wright wrote. The series also minimized Baskin's efforts to lobby Congress for stricter legislation on animal trafficking.[18]

Saff Saffery

Hawaiian-born Saff Saffery, a veteran who served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, worked as a manager for Joe Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park for almost ten years; PinkNews described Saffery as "the series' only not-awful person".[19] Following the release of the Netflix series, Robert Moor, the creator of an earlier podcast about Joe Exotic, posted a tweet stating "Saff, the person who got mauled by the tiger, told me repeatedly that he is trans, prefers to be called Saff, and uses he/him pronouns. So please do likewise."[20] Media outlets criticized the series for misgendering and deadnaming Saffery.[21][22][23][24] LGBTQ Nation contrasted Netflix's treatment of Saffery with their recent collaboration with GLAAD, an LGBTQ media watchdog group, on a campaign raising "transgender visibility in the entertainment industry".[25] Saffery clarified to Esquire,

On a daily basis, I am called 17 different things. I never really took it to heart. [...] [F]or context, my conversation with Rob was that he asked me, 'What do you prefer? Saff or Kelci?' And of course I said Saff because that’s what I've been called for the past 20 years. I was in the Army prior to the park and they always use last names. So, Saff was my preferred name. And I've always gone by him since I could say that out loud. My family was always very supportive—it was never an issue.[20]

Regarding whether he identified as a trans man, Saffery stated to Out magazine, "I don't know that that describes me. You know, nothing was done. I really just have lived this lifestyle. And, you know, my family knows this. And obviously, people closest to me know. This is how I've lived my entire life. I don't know anything else."[21]

In 2013, the then-27 year old was bitten by one of the tigers as he mistakenly put his arm into its cage, and opted to have an amputation of the forearm—instead of a two-year series of surgeries—returning to work within a week; as of April 2020, he is trying to pay off $1300 in medical costs and hopes to somehow get a prosthetic arm and hand.[19][22][26] Saff disconnected from Joe Exotic and the zoo in 2018 and moved to California after Exotic became engulfed and more interested in a feud with Carole Baskin than the zoo.[19] Saff said in an interview that he opted to be “consumed with the animals” and “distanced ... from the drama” that enveloped the rest of Exotic’s staff; when the zoo went to new owners he cut all ties.[19]

Subsequent series

A limited series adaptation is in development, headed by Universal Content Productions. It will be based on the second season of Wondery's Over My Dead Body podcast, with Kate McKinnon set to executive-produce and portray Carole Baskin. No other castings, network or streaming platform attached have been announced yet.[27]

On April 6, 2020, it was announced that a series titled Investigating the Strange World of Joe Exotic will premiere on Investigation Discovery.[28]

On April 8, 2020, Deadline.com reported that Ryan Murphy is in talks to produce a movie or limited series for Netflix with Rob Lowe starring as Joe Exotic.[29]

On April 13, 2020, Fox and TMZ premiered a one-hour follow-up special titled TMZ Investigates: Tiger King — What Really Went Down?.[30]


  1. ^ Miller, Julie (March 19, 2020). "Netflix's Wild Tiger King Is Your Next True Crime TV Obsession". Vanity Fair. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  2. ^ "Tiger King". Netflix. Archived from the original on February 20, 2020. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  3. ^ Kaplan, Michael. "Everything you need to know about Netflix's new Joe Exotic doc, 'Tiger King'". New York Post (March 19, 2020). NYP Holdings, Inc. Archived from the original on March 20, 2020. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  4. ^ "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
  5. ^ "Tiger King: Season 1". Metacritic. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  6. ^ Framke, Caroline (March 20, 2020). "Netflix's 'Tiger King': TV Review". Variety. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  7. ^ Rivera, Joshua (April 1, 2020). "Tiger King is a show about how the internet eats us all". The Verge. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  8. ^ Spangler, Todd (April 7, 2020). "'Tiger King' Nabbed Over 34 Million U.S. Viewers in First 10 Days, Nielsen Says (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  9. ^ Alexander, Julia (April 3, 2020). "Tiger King is a viral success because Netflix rules the jungle". The Verge. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  10. ^ Varley, Ciaran (April 2, 2020). "Tiger King: Memphis Depay not the first athlete to post picture with exotic animal". BBC Sport. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  11. ^ Hamdani, Adam (April 1, 2020). "Tiger King: Why Mike Tyson regrets his past owning exotic animals". The Independent. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  12. ^ Harvey, Josephine (March 31, 2020). "Shaquille O'Neal Explains That Controversial 'Tiger King' Cameo". HuffPost. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  13. ^ "Carole and Howard Baskin say 'Tiger King' makers betrayed their trust". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
  14. ^ "Tiger King: Carole Baskin rejects Netflix documentary's portrayal". BBC News. March 27, 2020. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  15. ^ Baskin, Carole (March 31, 2020). "Refuting Netflix Tiger King". Big Cat Rescue.
  16. ^ a b Spencer, Samuel (April 1, 2020). "'Tiger King' director responds to Carole Baskin's criticism of Netflix documentary". Newsweek. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  17. ^ a b c Wahi, Sukriti (April 7, 2020). "'Tiger King' Is Worth Talking About, But The Conversation We're Having Is All Wrong". Elle. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  18. ^ Frick-Wright, Peter (April 9, 2020). "'Tiger King' Is a Wild Ride. And Largely Misleading". Outside. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  19. ^ a b c d Milton, Josh (April 9, 2020). "6 burning Tiger King questions answered by the series' only not-awful person, Saff". PinkNews. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  20. ^ a b Storey, Kate (April 3, 2020). "Saff Saffery Discusses His Life After 'Tiger King' and Why He Left the Zoo Business Behind". [[Esquire (magazine)|]]. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  21. ^ a b Street, Mikelle (April 1, 2020). "'Tiger King's Saff Still Wants the Best for the Animals". Out. Retrieved April 12, 2020. “I don't know that that describes me. You know, nothing was done. I really just have lived this lifestyle. And, you know, my family knows this. And obviously, people closest to me know. This is how I've lived my entire life. I don't know anything else.”
  22. ^ a b Wahi, Sukriti (April 7, 2020). "'Tiger King' Is Worth Talking About, But The Conversation We're Having Is All Wrong". Elle. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  23. ^ Freedman, Adrianna (March 25, 2020). "Here's What Happened to Kelci Saffery after 'Tiger King'". Men's Health. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  24. ^ Marr, Rhuaridh (April 3, 2020). "Netflix's 'Tiger King' portrays trans man as lesbian". Metro Weekly. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  25. ^ Browning, Bil (March 31, 2020). ""Tiger King" presents a trans man as a butch lesbian during the entire show". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  26. ^ Vaynshteyn, Gina (April 8, 2020). "What *Really* Happened to Kelci "Saff" Saffery's Arm in 'The Tiger King'". Distractify. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  27. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 27, 2020). "'Joe Exotic' UCP Limited Series Starring Kate McKinnon As Carole Baskin Becomes Hot Commodity With Success Of Netflix's 'Tiger King'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  28. ^ "ID Greenlights Sequel to "Tail" of Big Cats and Criminal Acts in "Investigating the Strange World of Joe Exotic"". The Futon Critic. April 6, 2020.
  29. ^ Hipes, Patrick; Andreeva, Nellie (April 8, 2020). "Rob Lowe & Ryan Murphy Mulling Joe Exotic Scripted Project To Star Lowe". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
  30. ^ "'Tiger King' special to air on FOX, feature never-before-seen footage". Fox News. April 8, 2020.

External links


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