Pratt native produces, stars in television series about dogs
For over 33 years, Pratt native Bill Farmer has entertained audiences at home and abroad as the beloved voice of Disney dogs, Goofy and Pluto. Next month, however, Farmer will be stepping on-screen to host the new series, “It’s A Dog’s Life with Bill Farmer” when it premieres May 15 on the Disney+ streaming platform.
The executive producers of the series include Farmer and his wife and film director, Jennifer Wynne Farmer, as well as his colleague and friend, Steve Duval, who has worked as a cameraman for the show, “The Amazing Race.”
The series will center on working dogs and the variety of jobs they do around the country but each episode will also include two additional segments; “Pluto’s Pointers” will provide information on how to treat and take care of dogs, and “Goofy’s Hometown Hero” will feature short stories of dogs via videos submitted by dog owners.
The idea for the series came when Farmer was asked by Duval to host a local television show on an equestrian center, which also kept hounds. While viewing the footage afterward, they noticed how well Farmer worked with the dogs and thought it could be a good idea for a new show.
Farmer said it has been a little over a year since they pitched the idea to Disney and had the show purchased on the spot. At first, Disney requested a budget for a pilot episode but decided days later to purchase the whole series.
“They ordered ten episodes from us, and we made a production company, and hired people--about twenty people--to do this,” Farmer said. “We were able to work through our lawyers to get a good deal from Disney to produce the series, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last year and a half.”
Since he has been doing the voices of Disney dogs for over 30 years, Farmer said the idea now is to use his love for animals to step out from behind the microphone and tell the stories of real working dogs.
The episodes have been edited down to around 22 minutes, so it is possible the show could air on television, but for now, it has been primarily aimed at a Disney+ launch with episodes being released on a weekly basis after the May 15 premiere.
“We aim this, not at kids but it’s family-viewing--it’s for kids and their families,” Farmer said. “It’s not written so kid-friendly that the adults can’t enjoy it, and they’ll find out.”
While there will be some elements of animation in the opening sequence of the series as well as the “Pluto’s Pointers” and “Goofy’s Hometown Hero” segments, the show will be filmed in live-action in a division of television called ‘non-scripted reality.’
“We have dogs that do everything from finding people that are buried in buildings after an earthquake, to a dog that finds lost pets, to guide dogs for the blind and especially running,” Farmer said. “People who do like paralympics and jog--they jog with their dog, and their dog is a guide dog for blind runners.”
Other stories from the series, Farmer said, include a rescue dog who finds and digs people out of the snow after avalanches as well as a dog who uses its sense of smell to help researchers at Washington State University locate killer whale poop so they can analyze their diets and overall health.
The sense of smell is so powerful for dogs, Farmer said, that some dogs are actually being trained to smell for COVID-19 and tell when people have been infected with it.
“There are dogs that can smell if you have low or high blood sugar---if you have diabetes, cancer, they can smell that,” Farmer said. “It’s absolutely amazing what dogs can do with their sense of smell, and they’re more accurate than most any machines--So you know--it’s almost limitless what they can do, and if they can help in the fight with this COVID-19, that would be great.”
As the majority of the working dogs featured in the series are shelter rescues themselves, Farmer said the show could encourage people to appreciate their dogs and look in shelters for their next pets.
With many other ideas for working dog stories, Farmer said he hopes to continue making future seasons of the series if this first season proves successful.
This month marked the 25th anniversary for Farmer’s voicing of Goofy in “A Goofy Movie,” which came out April 7, 1995. A five-city tour was originally planned to publicize the occasion but the celebration had to move online when COVID-19 struck and the tour was canceled.
Having done around 4,000 shows for Disney over the last 33 years, Farmer received the highest honor in Disney when he became a ‘Disney Legend’ in 2009 and was inducted into the hall of fame for his work in voice acting. He became a Disney Legend the same year as Robin Williams and Betty White.
Along with “It’s a Dog’s Life,” Farmer said he is currently still voicing characters on four Disney series.
Based out of Los Angeles now, Farmer said he is not able to get back to Pratt for visits very often, but he still has family living there and memories of attending Pratt High, spending Saturdays at the Barron Theater, and working at KWLS Radio as a DJ.
“It was great growing up in Pratt and I still have a lot of my friends that I went to grade school and high school with, and life-long friends,” Farmer said. “It was a great childhood.’”