For years the Mutual of Omaha Company proudly sponsored the program "Wild Kingdom," which brought to your T.V. the excitement of the jungle without the obtrusive glass walls, musty monkey moats, and fetid elephant dung of the zoo. Host Marlon Perkins fearlessly traversed the world's hinterlands in search of exotic wild animals, accompanied by his reticent sidekick Jim, who handled snakes like a seasoned hooker.

But why is it that these two veteran expeditioners never showed viewers around their own habitat, the Mutual of Omaha company? As purveyors of insurance that protects you from fender benders, persistent hacking coughs, and the beady-eyed arsonist next door, Mutual of Omaha employees surely must be an exciting, dangerous pack. Are their lives fraught with ferocious species rivalry, competition for food, and the never-ceasing struggle to get some play, like the lives of the jungle beasts spotlighted by Marlon and Jim? After drawing the short straw, MELVIN writer Dave Krugler flew to Omaha with his colleagues' jeers ringing in his unlucky ears to learn the answer.

Stalking the Wily Beast

Before leaving, I watched a few episodes of "Wild Kingdom," hoping to glean some facts about the generous host company and its way of life. No such luck. The pith-helmeted, knobby-kneed Perkins flatly delivered plodding narrative after plodding narrative about the featured animals' lurid habitats, torrid sex lives, and tempestuous relations with their neighbors. Ignoring Perkin's halting, third grade level lecture. I was quickly entranced by vivid footage of wildlife provoked into snarling, growling, teeth-baring fits by the bumbling appearance of the bland Perkins and his silent companion.

Whether bouncing around in a dusty jeep over the hardened sands of an African preserve trail or lounging in an Amazon dugout canoe, Perkins and Jim expertly spotted local animals and drew them out of their lairs with clever whistles and, probably, well-thrown rocks. However, both men remained curiously tight-lipped about their employer. With chills racing down my spine, I wondered what sort of beast was this company Mutual of Omaha, so famous, yet so cagey and elusive? I packed my equipment in a frenzy, readying myself for a trip to the wilds of Omaha. The Story Continues...