What's the cuddliest counterprogramming on Super Bowl Sunday? If you say ''Puppy Bowl'' (Animal Planet, Feb. 5, 3 p.m. ET), you're barking up the right tree. We asked ''Puppy Bowl VIII'' exec producer Melinda Toporoff for scoop on the big game


How are the pups chosen?
A casting call goes out to shelters and rescue groups nationwide, and from the 118 potential players submitted, 59 wound up on this year’s special. ”They send the equivalent of a head shot, which is [a puppy] standing next to a soda can so we can get a sense of size,” says Toporoff. What qualities are valued? ”Cute would be number one,” she says. ”Number two is rambunctiousness. They’ve got to have the game in them.”

How is Puppy Bowl filmed?
On a New York soundstage for two days in October, and the action on the 10′-by-19′ field is overseen by a Humane Society rep. (The Kitty Halftime Show is shot on a separate day.) ”We don’t have puppies on the field longer than 20 minutes because their little legs get tired,” she says. ”Illegal napping happens from time to time, and our ref gives them a penalty for that.”

What’s the biggest pup problem?
”The most offensive issue is fouls on the field, literally,” says Toporoff. ”When we have a puppy pee on our logo, that’s always an ironic moment.” And what if the dogs aren’t motivated to carry a chew toy across the goal line? ”We toss in more toys and refresh the water bowl.”

Past PBs used bunny and chicken cheerleaders. This year’s offers a piggy pep squad. How did the porkers stack up?
”They definitely squeal more,” she says. ”They’re harder to wrangle. They don’t line up so well, but they bring it. They’re hamming it up.”

Who are this year’s standout players?
”I can’t give away our MVP, but [Chihuahua/terrier mix] Fumble and [terrier] Marbles are two to watch. And this year we have the most touchdowns in the history of Puppy Bowl.”

How come?
Toporoff pauses thoughtfully. ”Dumb luck?”