Netflix's 'Tiger King': Joe Exotic's Music, Doc Antle Backlash and More, Explained
By Stacy Lambe
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By now, it’s possible that you’ve heard of the self-proclaimed “Tiger King,” a gay polygamist roadside zoo owner and big cat breeder named Joe Exotic who is at the center of the the Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Premiering less than a week ago, the seven-part series has gone viral and quickly rose to No. 1 on the streaming platform’s Top 10.
After first making headlines in 2019 thanks to a New York Magazine investigative feature and a hit Wondery podcast -- which explored his fierce love for big cats, his escalating antics and intense battle with Carole Baskin, an animal activist and owner of a big cat sanctuary who is attempting to put him out of business -- Exotic, his longtime nemesis and a menagerie of colorful characters are back in the news as viewers dig deeper into their unbelievably true stories.
ET previously put together a guide to Tiger King’s key characters and their interwoven stories. Now, we’ve got answers to many of your big questions, like the possibility of a second season, status of a scripted series and who is starring in it, and how Baskin and others have reacted to the docuseries.
How did Tiger King end?
The docuseries ends on an ominous note, with Exotic behind bars, serving out a 22-year sentence in a federal prison for a failed murder-for-hire plot against Baskin and other wildlife violations. He reveals that he’s now working with authorities to expose others involved in the illegal selling and breeding of big cats. “Did I ever dream PETA would be my ally right now? F**k no, but I’m done with the animal world, so let’s just shut all the troublemakers down,” he says via phone from jail.
It also revealed at the end of Tiger King that Baskin’s passion project, Big Cat Public Safety Act, was not passed by Congress and that Doc Antle’s Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, upscale zoo was raided by authorities in December 2019 in response to allegations that he had euthanized several tigers.
How has Carole Baskin reacted to accusations in the docuseries?
The animal activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue, who was accused of feeding her missing husband to one of her tigers, has not responded kindly to the docuseries. In a lengthy blog post, “Refuting Netflix Tiger King,” Baskin claims that Chaiklin and Goode misled her.
“When the directors of the Netflix documentary Tiger King came to us five years ago they said they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish (the documentary that exposed abuse at SeaWorld) that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for cub petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive,” she writes. “There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the docuseries not only does not do any of that but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers.”
Baskin also took issue with how her marriage to second husband Jack Lewis and his subsequent disappearance was portrayed in Tiger King. “It has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago,” she writes. “The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims. They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.”
She concludes by writing, “Don was not easy to live with and like most couples we had our moments. But I never threatened him and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance.”
And while her efforts in Congress did not pass, Baskin is still raising awareness about the dangers of the cub petting industry.
In addition to Baskin, Antle has also spoken out about how his South Carolina zoo, Myrtle Beach Safari, was portrayed. Despite being raided by authorities, the park is still open to visitors, where they can still cuddle up to some of the animals.
“We are very disappointed that our facility was mentioned in the new Netflix series. We can only assume it is because Doc Antle has been such a high profile wildlife personality for so many decades that his association would create more buzz,” a lengthy caption posted to Antle’s Instagram account reads. “It is important to understand that this series is not a documentary; it’s sensationalized entertainment with paid participants. Tiger King is the bizarre story of Joe and Carole and their feud. These characters are not representative of experts in the wildlife sector or world class facilities like ours here in Myrtle Beach.”
Antle’s Instagram post also asserts that “Myrtle Beach Safari has been recognized by the state of South Carolina as one of the pre-eminent wildlife facilities in the United States… Myrtle Beach Safari adheres to all USDA guidelines, and our animals are treated with the utmost care. We have never had a USDA violation and work collaboratively with various state and federal wildlife agencies to ensure our animals receive the very best life each and every day.”
That said, the South Carolina safari is remaining opening during the coronavirus outbreak. An update to the site’s website reads, “Myrtle Beach Safari is not planning to cancel any tours. We are also following the CDC guidelines and taking all necessary health precautions.”
Did Joe Exotic really sing all those country songs?
In addition to Exotic’s many ventures, including a 2016 presidential bid and reality TV series, the zookeeper is also a country music recording artist. Most of his songs like “I Saw a Tiger” are seemingly biographical, depicting his life as a lover of big cats and perpetuating the lifestyle of his alter ego. The most shocking song, however, is one that accuses Baskin of feeding Lewis to a tiger -- there’s even a lookalike shown in the music video slipping meat into the mouth of one.
While Tiger King features Exotic’s music and videos, audiences never see him in the recording studio. And according to Newsweek, Baskin claims that it’s not even Exotic’s voice heard in the songs. “The documentary never does reveal that Joe Exotic only lip-synced to songs written and recorded by Vince Johnson and Danny Clinton,” she says of the two songwriters who are credited in the docuseries for “Archival Footage.”
And Baskin is not the only one refuting Exotic’s singing abilities. In an interview with Vanity Fair, reality TV producer Rick Kirkham says “he couldn’t even hold a tune.” He continues by adding that “it was a big joke within the crew and staff that it wasn’t him [singing in the videos] -- but he was damned insistent to anyone and everyone, including us and my studio crew, that that was him.”
But the biggest nail in the coffin of Exotic’s music career is Johnson himself, who revealed to the magazine that he was hired by the zookeeper to write songs for him but “had no idea he was going to Milli Vanilli the songs.” In an email, Johnson writes that he finally discovered that Exotic was "lip-syncing and acting like the ghost of Elvis [in these music videos]. I called him up, I was hot…And he bamboozled me about his reality show—that it was coming soon and he would make everything right as rain. I just wanted the proper credit.”
Is there going to be a second season?
From 2014 to weeks into 2020, directors Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode cameras followed Exotic and Baskin, who were already legally embroiled with each other, and watched in real time as it escalated into something much, much darker. So, it’s not surprising that there’s more to this story.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Chaiklin teases there may be more to come. “We have a crazy amount of footage and it’s a story that's still unfolding,” she says. “We’re not sure yet, but there could be a follow-up on this story because there’s a lot that’s still unfolding in it, and it’ll be just as dramatic and just as colorful as what has unfolded these past few years.”
Is there going to be a scripted version?
As soon as anyone watches the docuseries, it’s hard not to imagine it as a limited TV series or even a movie, and start coming up with ideas of who could portray Exotic, Baskin and the others. The internet has a few ideas, including a few we put together as well as some from Dax Shepard and Edward Norton, but it seems Kate McKinnon has beat us all to the punch.
ET has learned that the Saturday Night Live actress will star as Baskin in a limited series adaptation of the Wondery podcast. The project is in development at Universal Content Productions, but no network is currently attached. (McKinnon, meanwhile, is set to star in The Dropout, a Hulu series about another true-crime fascination, Elizabeth Holmes.)
ET has reached out to Netflix and the filmmakers for more information.