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."
His wife of 50 1/2 years, Diane, works with him in the clinic. Together they've treated 25,000 patients. While he does his best to save every creature, he says there are times when it's better to let them go.
"I will not recommend chemo for animals," he shakes his head. "To me it is selfish. Animals are not afraid to die. And when they have cancer and it's inoperable, let them go. You can never find the same animal again, but that doesn't mean you can't love another animal just as much. There are lots of animals around that need attention."
He says there often comes a point when your live-in love transforms from being a pet to becoming a pest. "The tolerance of the people decides when a pet becomes a pest," he says.
"When an animal becomes a pest for himself -- when they get old and can't get up and poop on the floor, they feel that, and then they become a pest for themselves. So it is something I try to instill in people: Look at the animal. They'll tell you when it's time to go."
Pol admits he shares the stereotype of his fellow countrymen as in the adage "hard-headed Dutchman." And he recalls when he first began the TV series, one of the producers suggested he fake a little something with the animal. "I said, 'No!' He said, 'If you do this people will love that.'
"'I don't care. I am a veterinarian. This is my patient. If you want to film it, be my guest. But I'm not doing anything to an animal for your show.' That's one of the reasons why this show is so popular, because what you see is real," he says.
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He's gratified by the response he receives from viewers all over the world and the fact that fans recognize him wherever he goes. But Pol says it isn't the animals he's serving. "I like to say, 'We work on animals, but we help people.'"
'LIVING' BY THE BOOK
Creator and show runner Patrick Walsh has come up with an idea for a sitcom: What if a guy tried to live his life strictly according to the Bible? The result is CBS's new series, "Living Biblically," premiering next Monday. Walsh confesses he was a bit worried the show might prompt some criticism. "I don't think there is any scenario where the show wouldn't bother someone in the world," he says.
"But it is absolutely not the goal. And even those of us who aren't religious, I think have a great deal of respect for religion and what it's trying to do. And it's strange to me that in doing research for the show, 84 percent of the world aligns themselves with some form of religion, and yet the only times you hear religion discussed on television are either harshly critical, like a Bill Maher, or so sanitized that people who are not religious would never enjoy it, like "7th Heaven," or something like that. No criticism of that show, which I have not seen."
NORTON GIVES THE DEVIL HIS DUE
James Norton ("Grantchester," "War and Peace") is starring as the London-raised son of a Russian Mafia boss in AMC's new eight-part thriller, "McMafia," premiering next Monday. Probing the mind of the compromised financier was a real challenge, says Norton.
"The show is very much sort of tapping into the idea that people from every walk of life ... are prone to this level of criminality. And none of us are very far away ... Maybe you are involving yourself in some tax evasion. Maybe it's even worse. But what's fascinating from the point of view of playing Alex, was that this man is a good man.
" ... And Alex wants to do the right thing. He's standing by his life, his girlfriend, his family, but he's tempted. And we see it all the time in every walk of life, but particularly in the world of finance and banking -- men and women who are given a pact with the devil. And Alex is offered that, and he takes it over the course of the eight hours."
'UNREAL' RETURNS MONDAY
Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who wrote the short film that shaped the Lifetime series "UnREAL," says the show is entering its third season next Monday because it offers a beehive of ethical turpitude.
Mimicking the backstage antics of a TV reality show like "The Bachelor," "UnREAL" often cuts deep. "One of the reasons why this world is such a great place to set this show is that it's just a bastion of moral quandary," she says.
"Every turn is filled with a challenge for each person. And there are constant decisions. There's constantly the devil on your shoulder asking you to go down the wrong path. And it's also... a world full of longing. Like everyone is longing for something. Either it's love or success or love through success or a work family or a real family. So it's a fishbowl full of people that are trying to find love and find home. So it's just a really beautiful place to work inside of."
(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)
(c)2018 Luaine Lee
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