It is hard to believe that Disney+ has only been active for just over a year, as the service has seen a slew of great original content since its launch last November. One such Disney+ original, Pick of the Litter, debuted on the service last December, and this great docuseries shares the story of puppies training to become guide dogs for the blind.
To celebrate the show’s one-year anniversary, I sat down to chat with Mary Celenza, the executive producer for Pick of the Litter, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this fantastic series. Keep reading for our full, exclusive interview!
CORBAN: Thanks so much for joining me for this interview! To get some background, what was your first experience working with The Walt Disney Company, and how did you get involved with Pick of the Litter on Disney+?
MARY CELENZA: I should preface this by explaining that Pick of the Litter on Disney+ is a limited documentary series based on the feature documentary of the same name created, produced and directed by documentary filmmakers (and series Directors & Executive Producers) Dana Nachman and Don Hardy. In the award-winning feature documentary, Dana and Don follow one litter of puppies born at Guide Dogs for the Blind from the moment they are born until each dog either graduates and becomes a guide, enters the GDB breeding program or is career changed and becomes a happy pet dog. The series follows six dogs in California from the end of their time with their puppy raisers to the end of their journeys (which for all the dogs was really the beginning of the next part of their journeys!).
This was my first experience working as an EP for Disney+, but I had been a part of a development think tank inside of ABC Studios alternative (a part of Disney) for about a year prior to joining the producing team of this series. That think tank was part of the division inside of ABC Studios that produced the series, and I was asked by my boss if I’d like to join the producing team. It was a no-brainer to say yes as I missed day to day producing, was a fan of the film (and of Dana and Don’s) and am a huge animal lover.
CORBAN: I love how Disney+ has content like Pick of the Litter to bring out the animal lover in all of us! Since you follow the dogs throughout their entire training process, how long does it take for a show like Pick of the Litter to go from concept to its final form, and what did your role look like for this project?
MARY CELENZA: Shows like Pick of the Litter can take anywhere from months to years to produce. In this case, we told the stories of the dogs we meet in the series because of their potential graduation dates. We wanted to be able to see each dog from the puppy raiser’s home to his or her final outcome, so we filmed them for many months along their journey.
CORBAN: That is some awesome dedication! What is your favorite part of working on a series like Pick of the Litter, and how does it compare to other series you have worked on before?
MARY CELENZA: One of my favorite parts of working on the series was working with Dana and Don. They are both such inspirational storytellers who are passionate about the work they do and the authenticity of the storytelling process. In addition, getting to spend time with the incredibly caring and special team at Guide Dogs for the Blind (especially the Instructors Chelsea and Jessie, who are featured in the series) was really rewarding. The team is so caring and so good at what they do – it was a real treat to be able to document. It was also a real pleasure getting to know some of the puppy raising families and eventually a few of the clients who got paired with the dogs; and, of course, it goes without saying that for an animal lover like me, it was a thrill to be around awesome dogs all day long for a few months.
CORBAN: I love that you were able to use your work on Pick of the Litter to combine both your love for animals and your passion as a producer. Do you have any future projects in the works, and do you know of any plans for a second season of Pick of the Litter?
MARY CELENZA: I don’t believe there is another season of Pick of the Litter planned, as it was a closed ended series – but you never know!
Dana Nachman’s new documentary Dear Santa —a truly heartwarming story of the US Post Office’s real life “elves” who answer letters to Santa– is out now on demand and in theaters; and look for Don Hardy’s latest documentary Citizen Penn which chronicles Sean Penn’s ten-year humanitarian quest to help rebuild Haiti after its devastating earthquake.
In addition, Don’s new short form documentary series on homelessness in California, “The Way Home”, is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
As to future projects, I’m working on a not-yet-announced game show for a new streaming service. Look for it in February (but I can’t say where yet!).
CORBAN: While I don’t know the specifics yet, I can’t wait to watch your new game show in February, and we all could use a game show binge session right now! Thank you again for helping us to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Pick of the Litter on Disney+ and for sharing your amazing story!
And, to the reader, you can watch Pick of the Litter, now streaming on Disney+.
Corban has been a lifelong fan of The Walt Disney Company. Disney music is often the soundtrack of his life, and he loves listening to a new film score. In between new episodes of The Mandalorian, you can often find him planning his next trip to the Disney Parks or rewatching classic Disney TV shows.