PASADENA, Calif. -- When he was studying veterinary medicine in his native Holland, Jan Pol had no idea he would become a TV star. But that's where the 75-year-old finds himself today as the subject of Nat Geo Wild's wildly popular "The Incredible Dr. Pol."
He was ministering to all kinds of farm animals in rural Michigan when his son, Charles, came up with a bright idea.
"He went to film school in Miami and then went to Hollywood. He said, 'We're here in Hollywood. Let's make movies!' But the writers' strike was there, and filmmakers were a dime a dozen, and he was here for about eight to 10 years," says Pol.
"Then he had a friend at Nickelodeon and Charles said, 'If you want to make a reality show, you should make one with my dad. He's a veterinarian. He does large animals. He's in the Midwest, and there's been nothing like that on TV. And he's a CHARACTER,'" Dr. Pol laughs.
"So the three guys came with a cameraman, so you do it for your son. Who cares?" he says in his slight Dutch accent. "So one week filming they made a four-minute DVD and took it to all the networks."
But most of the networks turned them down. "Nat Geo Wild was a new channel, why not? So they came out with a crew of 10, made four episodes and started broadcasting it, and the rest is history," grins Pol.
He makes it sound so easy. He studied veterinary medicine at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and thinks the education he garnered there gave him an advantage because the training was mostly hands-on. Still he was 28 -- older than his colleagues -- when he finally graduated.
His studies had been interrupted when his father fell ill with cancer. And since Jan was the youngest of six and still at home, he took a year off to help nurse his father through his final days.
"As a veterinarian you can always get a job, the directors of the slaughterhouses in the Netherlands are veterinarians, you can go to education, you can go into so many things," he says, "but I wanted to work with animals, period. I wanted to get my hands dirty."
While still in high school he became an exchange student living for a time with a family in Michigan. His sister was living in Canada. "My parents did come to Canada to visit my sister and visited my host parents in Michigan," he says. "And two years later my dad died of cancer and my sister came back to the Netherlands basically to say goodbye, and she was there when he died. And when I graduated from the University of Utrecht I went back to the United States."