Zoo: In the Animal Apocalypse, No Human Is Safe (Summer Preview)

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/CB

In Zoo, the world may end with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a vicious meow. The premise of the 13-episode series, based on a bestselling sci-fi novel co-written by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, is that an impending animal apocalypse may threaten the survival of the human race, unless a team of experts can figure out how to stop Earth’s critters from going on murderous rampages. And no species is exempt from these sudden, inexplicable homicidal urges.

“Right now we’re midway through our shoot,” says executive producer Michael Katleman, sitting inside the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, one of the many Louisiana locations standing in for settings around the world. “And we’ve had lions, tigers, bears, wolves, a lion cub, cats, dogs, horses, rats, bats, and an otter. Not a bad start.” He looks across the arena at a sign bearing the animal insignia for the local pro basketball team and realizes they’ve missed one. “We haven’t hit pelicans yet!”

Give the show time. James Wolk, who plays wildlife expert Jackson Oz, insists Zoo is not an animal-attack-of-the-week show. “This is more of a Jurassic Park view of people not being at the top of the food chain anymore,” he says. “They have been turned into prey—albeit on a worldwide level, which is fun.”

So kind of like a multispecies Sharknado, then? “No, no, no, no, no!” Katleman protests. “In an animal apocalypse, there is definitely room for humor, but it comes from that playfulness where people make jokes while bad things are happening. We’re trying to make this grounded and science-based as opposed to campy. We are going to great lengths to depict these animals as realistically as possible and up the tension/thriller element.”

The source book is mainly “a jumping-off place,” with Patterson approving any major novel-to-teleplay changes, since he’s also on board as an executive producer. One major switch: The book’s focus on Wolk’s character as the sole protagonist has shifted to an ensemble created by a mysterious operative who brings together the ragtag team of would-be heroes (played by Kristen Connolly, Billy Burke, Nonso Anozie, and Nora Arnezeder) to find a solution to the world’s growing bitey-ness outbreak.

Also different in the television version of Zoo: the ultimate explanation for why animals attack. In the novel, the massive creature revolt is blamed on technology—and the only way to make pets docile again is to turn everything off. “We’re going a different way,” says Katleman. “Because I could never put my phone down!”

Zoo, Series premiere Tuesday, June 30, 9/8c, CBS