Puppy Bowl books Keyboard Cat for halftime show (plus Lil Bub, penguin cheerleaders, more) -- EXCLUSIVE

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Animal Planet is adding celebrity guests and aww-inspiring twists to this year’s Puppy Bowl.

The 10th anniversary of the network’s Super Bowl counter-programming cuteness-overload will feature guest appearances by two YouTube sensations — classic Internet fave Keyboard Cat and youthful millennial sensation Lil Bub. Puppy Bowl X is also introducing its first-ever fantasy draft, MVP interactive voting, and plans to display viewer fan photos via Instagram during the show.

But first: The big news is the triumphant return of Keyboard Cat, whose play-em-off videos have been seen tens (if not hundreds) of millions of times. The original Keyboard Cat meme was based on artist Charles Schmidt’s footage from the mid-1980s and was first popularized in 2007 by entrepreneur Brad O’Farrell. Though the original cat (“Fatso”) passed away decades ago, Keyboard Cat has been resurrected in his new incarnation to play a song┬áduring the Puppy Bowl’s Kitty Halftime Show (the magic and charm of Keyboard Cat need not be constrained to one fur-body; he’s like Shamu or Santa).

Keyboard Cat will perform — appropriately enough — Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven.” (He even wears a Mars-ian hat.) During the feline’s performance, 30 kittens will perform a domino topple and one little daredevil will make a grand entrance by parachuting onto the field.

The Puppy Bowl has also drafted cheerleader penguins for the sidelines (the event has previously showcased chicken cheerleaders and bunny cheerleaders). And then there’s Lil Bub.

The adorable “perma-kitten” dwarf will likely add some saucy Miley Cyrus-style tongue flashing to the event. (No Lil Bub twerking is planned, however — we actually asked.) We’re told Lil Bub will “check in throughout the game from her Chicago studio, as furry first responders representing police dogs across the New York region take to the field for the National Anthem.”

Now I realize this whole post is starting to sound made-up. It sort of reads like some blog post hallucination spurred by a marathon of binging on catnip and reading Reddit Aww over the holiday, but this is the real plan — Animal Planet is simply embracing viral-video favorites and ratcheting up the sports-spoof silliness to a new level this year. Proof: Here are our exclusive photos of the Puppy Bowl’s starting lineup.

Also planned for the Puppy Bowl:

– Fantasy Puppy League: Later this month at AnimalPlanet.com/PuppyBowl, the network will launch a fantasy draft, where fans can see profiles of 11 of the 66 players and create their team of competitors before the big game. On game day, you can keep track of how your players perform via stats on the screen (so in theory you could place a wager on Cici the German Shepard mix rather than, say, the Patriots).

– MVP interactive online voting: On game day you can vote for the top pups.

– Instragram interactivity: Viewers can send photos of their Puppy Bowl parties to Instagram for a chance to see themselves and their pets on TV in real time.

Animal Planet will air the two-hour Puppy Bowl X opposite the Super Bowl (where the real Bruno Mars is playing the halftime show) on Feb. 2 at 3 p.m., then repeat the program five more times. Ratings tend to increase for the telecast ever year, with 2013′s episode averaging 12.4 million viewers.

Here’s the original 30-million-views Keyboard Cat video, along with a strangely hypnotic hour-long Lil Bub video. Also see our 2014 Puppy Bowl gallery.

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