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One of Peacock’s best original series is making its way to USA Network in early October, allowing a new audience to get far too acquainted with the bizarre feud between Carole Baskin and Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic — the Tiger King.
“Joe vs. Carole” is a Peacock original series that dramatizes the very real-life rivalry between Exotic and Baskin that landed the former in prison for orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot that ultimately failed. Their feud was thrust into the public eye by way of the immensely popular Netflix documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness” as well as the in-depth podcast from Wondery also titled “Joe vs. Carole,” on which the series is based.
Like the actual story, the miniseries shows the wild twists and turns, some funny, some tragic, that ultimately led to the very real threat on Baskin’s life. The eight-episode series stars John Cameron Mitchell as Joe Exotic and “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon as Baskin. It chronicles their rivalry, which stems from their involvement in the world of private exotic animal ownership. Maldonado-Passage, an eccentric figure with a propensity for putting himself in the public eye through a bizarre web series and country music videos, owned and operated an exotic animal zoo in Oklahoma. Baskin, meanwhile, is the CEO of Big Cat Rescue, an organization dedicated to removing tigers from zoos like Maldonado Passage’s.
Baskin's ire toward Maldonado-Passage had to do with the way he ran the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, which he founded in the late 1990s. Baskin accused him of mistreating animals, and eventually got him banned from several mall tours Maldonado-Passage had been hosting where he let people meet his cubs. After that, things between the pair got more heated — Exotic even renamed his road show Big Cat Rescue Entertainment and copied Baskin's logo at one point, although she sued him and won a $1 million judgement in 2013, according to National Geographic.
This only exacerbated his grudge against Baskin. He even accused her of killing her former husband, Don Lewis, who disappeared in 1997, claiming she fed him to her cats. (Baskin has never been charged in connection with Lewis' disappearance.) Maldonado-Passage went on to write and perform a diss track against Baskin and even shouted her out by name during a failed presidential bid in 2016. (He also attempted to run for governor of Oklahoma in 2017).
Eventually, Maldonado-Passage asked a zoo employee and, unbeknownst to him, an undercover agent to kill Baskin in exchange for money. This led to his conviction for two counts of murder-for-hire in 2019. He was also convicted of eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records, and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act, according to a statement from the United States Attorney’s Office Western District of Oklahoma, as he had also been accused of killing his tigers.
Maldonado-Passage, for his part, maintains he "put five tigers to sleep" to put them out of pain, as he told local television station KOCO in November 2018.
He was sentenced to prison for 22 years, although he continues to maintain his innocence, saying he wasn't serious about having Baskin killed. In 2021, a federal appeals court ruled last year that the prison term he's serving on a murder-for-hire conviction should be shortened. He was re-sentenced to just 21 years in January 2022.
However, that only scratches the surface of the multifaceted and very complicated story that is “Joe vs. Carole.” Although it hinges on a failed murder plot, this story has a lot of moving parts and other crimes bubbling under the surface all set within the flashy and downright puzzling world of exotic animal handlers and activists.
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