Carole Baskin's highly-anticipated debut on Dancing With the Stars may have not been exactly what she expected. During a commercial break for the dance competition show's premiere Monday night, a spot aired in local Florida markets that brought up allegations regarding the 1997 disappearance of Baskin's second husband, Don Lewis.
The story of his disappearance was featured in Netflix's Tiger King. Joe Exotic alleged in the docuseries that Baskin killed Lewis, a claim she has vehemently denied.
The commercial featured Lewis' three daughters, Gale, Lynda and Donna, along with his former assistant, Anne McQueen, and the family attorney, John Phillips. "We need to know what happened to our father," Donna said, as Phillips revealed their $100,00 reward for information, and encouraged viewers to call their tip line.
When ET spoke with Phillips this week, he explained the rationale behind the ad, and how it all came to be.
"Our ad rep here in Jacksonville contacted us and said, 'Hey, Dancing with the Stars. We know you're involved with litigation against Carole Baskin, do you want to put up a commercial, like a lawyer commercial?'" Phillips shared. "So the first thing we did was tech check the Tampa market, see if there was availability, there was. Check Jacksonville, see if there was availability. There was. We were trying to get it on to other markets, but we kind of had a feeling that as long as we landed in the Tampa market where this all happened, it could boost and boy did it!"
"Carole Baskin goes on YouTube, Facebook and does blogs every single day getting out her narrative. It's landed her on a major TV show, Dancing with the Stars. She was the featured person in all the commercials and last to dance," he continued. "All the messaging about Carole and her fame comes at their peril. There was Tiger King -- and it focused on the exotic animal industry -- but a lot of it was about the death and disappearance of Don Lewis. A lot of her contention with Joe Exotic was about whether she was involved in Don Lewis's death. The family never really got the chance to know and years have gone by. Since Tiger King, Carole has done daily diary entries and was going to use this show as a springboard to her message. So [Lewis' family] wanted their message out there. They wanted, at least locally, to counter message Carole Baskin's, in their mind, lies and fraud."
As for why the family chose to air the commercial during DWTS, Phillips said it was indeed strategic.
"Anytime you're doing high level litigation, this is simple PR, you go where the eyes are. You go where people are watching, tweeting and are actively engaged," he explained. "So what better way to take advantage of an opportunity then to be there where she is too? To take a moment between the breaks of Dancing with the Stars and say, 'Look, Dancing with the Stars isn't going to play the families messaging, they're not going to give them a forum. So let's make a forum.' Let's take a moment to say, 'Hey, wait a minute, there's this mystery of Don Lewis that still hasn't been solved.'"
"Dancing with the Stars producers, you think it's funny to say 'she killed it' and to use part of that TikTok rhyme that is derogatory to Carole in in the judging, but let's stop and realize that there is an actual death involved here and be serious and maybe somebody will come forward," he added. "If not, at least people today will be talking about Don Lewis and not just Carole Baskin."
"I have not seen the ad. I am not at all surprised," Baskin, 59, said. "It's just been a huge publicity stunt on their part so what more could they possibly do than that?"
Addressing the haters and all the negative comments she often receives on social media, Baskin advised them to "find something to do that's worthwhile with your life."
"Spending time worrying about what I'm doing is probably not a really good use of your time," she said. "I'm not worried about what people say because even when they're saying things that [are] negative, it's keeping the conversation out there [about cats] in the public eye. As long as I can keep that conversation out there, I can keep the cats in the spotlight and that's my goal."
Earlier this month, Baskin also told ET that she hopes her time on DWTS will still be all about the cats.
"There's plenty of wrongs but this isn't about me. This is about the cats and they were the real losers in Tiger King. There was [little] attention paid to what those cats go through," she explained. "So I am really hoping that Dancing With the Stars will keep those cats first and foremost in the front of the viewers so that they are constantly thinking about those cats being in cages and being exploited so that we can change that and end the private possession and the cub handling."
"In my case, I have always been strictly focused on protecting big cats and saving them in the wild," she continued. "The editors of Tiger King chose not to focus on that part of what I do. I'm really hoping the editors of Dancing With the Stars do."
Baskin said after "people screaming how much they hated me" amid Tiger King, she thinks negativity will be "dissipating."
"The more people are learning about the real issues -- because thankfully it is in the public discussion now and people are starting to research it and they're finding out that tigers are disappearing in the wild and they're finding out that breeding them in cages is not saving them in the wild... So as more and more of that information gets out there, there's less and less negativity," she shared.