You'll 'sit' for this Jack London classic

If for no other reason than to see the most remarkable dog on TV, "Call of the Wild" is worth watching. Half malamute and half timber wolf, star Kavic is four-footed proof of the old show-biz axiom that an adult actor should never try to compete with children or animals.

That said, the 13-part dramatic series, which kicks off tonight with a two-hour special (Animal Planet, 8-10 p.m.), is a worthy exercise in expanding a franchise into new territory.

Based on the Jack London classic, the series builds on the book's dramatic setting to investigate America's heady history during the days of the Alaska gold rush.

This being the Animal Planet Channel, Kavic is never far from the action, of course. While the show follows the essential outlines of the London book, it also explores new stories, using the spirit of the writer.

"He was like the Jack Kerouac, the Ernest Hemingway of his time," says series star Nick Mancuso. "He was a great traveler, a great adventurer. He really was a kind of Renaissance explorer."

Over the course of 10 nights (an hour-long Part 2 airs tomorrow night, then the series switches to Mondays), the show follows the adventures of London's Thornton family and their dog, Buck, in Yukon, Alaska. Shake a paw with the real live canine Kavic, and it's easy to understand the raw power of American wilderness that so fascinated London.

Originally from Oregon, where the cross-breed is banned, Kavic migrated to California and into the hands of Creative Animal Talent, an agency that trains raccoons to reptiles for the movies. "Their size and their strength and their jaw power is stronger than a normal dog," says trainer Steve Woodley of the part-dog, part-wolf. As for the breed being banned in some states, Mr. Woodley says that has to do with lack of understanding of the animal. In the wrong hands, their great size and strength can be put to aggressive use, Woodley says, "just as [people] use pit bulls and other animals."

Kavic now lives with Woodley's own family. He says this breed is one of the most intelligent and trainable of the big dogs. "They are a very stubborn animal," he says with a laugh, "but he can learn something new every day." Woodley trusts the dog-wolf with his most precious possessions. "I have a year-and-a-half-old daughter who rides around on his back in the house."

The franchise represents a new direction for the all-animals-all-the-time channel.

"As our very first, original prime-time drama, 'Call of the Wild' makes the statement that if you are looking for a family-oriented, original fictional programming, Animal Planet is a place you ought to turn," says Clark Bunting, general manager of Animal Planet.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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