So one day, someone thought, "Hey, how about we follow a bunch of meerkats out in the wild doing their day-to-day activities and make a TV show out of it!" And somehow, it worked. In its day, Meerkat Manor became Animal Planet's top rated show, and its success led to the network creating more documentary shows revolving around different species' of animals. The show debuted in 2005 and ran for four seasons until 2008.
Of course, when one thinks of a Nature Documentary, what usually comes to mind is a narrator covertly explaining what is going on in a matter-of-fact fashion. (Either that, or Steve Irwin wrestling with crocs.) Meerkat Manor, however, is very much unlike these type of documentaries. Instead, it dramatizes the meerkats' lives in a way more reminiscent with a TV drama, inviting the viewers to become much more emotionally invested than what is considered the norm in a documentary. As a result, its realistic outcomes can actually be quite devastating for some viewers.
Meerkat Manor's success led to a release of a prequel film chronicling the life of the show's "main character", along with an assortment of merchandise, including a video game. A sequel series, Meerkat Manor: Rise of the Dynasty, was launched in 2021.
This show provides examples of:
- Composite Character: Some portrayals on the show use footage from multiple individuals who otherwise would pop in and out of the Whiskers' lives with no narrative rhythm; Carlos was played by a number of roving males, though it was indeed a Lazuli male who founded Starsky and later died. There are even composite groups: The Commandos often used storylines from the Vivian group, while the Zappas retained their dominance storyline but included film of the Young Ones group, with Axel being a Young Ones pup.
- Dashed Plotline: Each episode spans a month or two of time, as people who watch a marathon will feel like the seasons are changing every half-hour or so. A lot of uneventful activity must hit the cutting room floor.
- Downer Ending : Due to their short life spans, pretty much any meerkat or family of meerkats is going to face this at some point.
- Mozart's group was a downer from the start. Carlos died as the only male in the group, and soon only Mozart and her two sisters were left. As the other two died, she met a male from another group. He was going to bring her into his group (although they may have killed her there), but there was a storm that prevented it for the night. The next day when the male saw her, she was dead.
- The last episode shows Rocket Dog recovering from a snake bite, which is what killed her mother Flower. Several months later, she became roadkill.
- The Film of the Series: Chronicled Flower's rise to glory. It actually used Manipulative Editing and meerkat "actors" to play the meerkats from the show—the actual Whiskers appear at the end, thanks to Flower dying during production.
- Heroic Sacrifice - R.I.P. Flower
- The Hero Dies
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Played with, since home videos exist; but people follow the drama from the researchers themselves because the show has been out of production for a few years and meerkat life moves on.
- Left Hanging: In the last episode of The Next Generation, Rocket Dog was showing improvement with her snake bite. Not only were the KMP planning a season 5, but also a special about her recovery. Her untimely death prevented the special, and would have been too much to explain for between seasons.
- Rise of the Dynasty shows that the Whiskers clan survives as of 2021, with it and two breakaway groups still under the leadership of Flower's great-granddaughters. The social impact of Rocket Dog's demise and the hardships which the family endured in the 13-year hiatus remain undetailed.
- Manipulative Editing - Fans who try to keep track of what's going on in the Kalahaari Meerkat Project which follows the Whiskers and numerous other families practically need a roadmap to figure out what meerkat goes by what name on TV, since the names often are not kept between the show and the project. Made more frustrating that one name on TV can be several Meerkats; see next trope for why.
- Mozart's death.
- Narrative-Driven Nature Documentary: The Trope Codifier. It's a series showcasing the lives of two groups of meerkats in a Reality TV-esque manner. In its case, it was known that the show uses some manipulative editing for narrative reasons. Meerkat Manor uses several different individuals to 'play' the same meerkat.
- Never Say "Die" - Mostly subverted, but there are exceptions. Because real Meerkats have a tendency to just disappear anticlimactically and never be seen again, some names in the narration are attributed to multiple meerkats so as to keep the drama flowing. The name Carlos has been given to maybe as many as a dozen meerkats who have played the role of The Charmer over the year
- The Other Darrin: Carlos has been the name given to quite a few of the "wandering male meerkats".
- Also, Mitch. Everywhere, all the time.