John O’Hurley and David Frei
It’s a Dog Show Life
by Jay S. Jacobs
It has become a Thanksgiving tradition, just like turkey, cranberries and too many relatives. The National Dog Show presented by Purina airs annually on the holiday, right after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. After all, what is there to be more thankful for than man’s best friend?
Our hosts and guides to the show, which is filmed annually at the Philadelphia Kennel Club’s annual event, are a mix of Hollywood suave and dog-world smarts. The suave, silver-tongued John O’Hurley is a TV icon best known for playing Elaine Benes’ eccentric boss on the legendary sitcom Seinfeld, as well as winning Dancing With the Stars in 2005. His co-host David Frei is normally a more behind-the-scenes type, an American Kennel Club-licensed judge who also hosts The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show when not busy working with therapy dogs and as an ambassador to the canine breeding world.
We were recently able to speak with O’Hurley and Frei on a conference call with a few other sites about the 12th annual airing of The National Dog Show.
W.C. Fields said to never work with children or animals because they always can steal the spotlight from you. Obviously these are trained dogs, but they are still dogs. What are some of the funniest or cutest unplanned things that have happened at the shows over the years?
John O’Hurley: Well, I’ll pipe in there because I remember several years in, David and I were seated there at the NBC booth. During the group competition, the Great Dane came in and just passed David at the NBC booth. Then [he] just stopped right in front of me and squatted down and left what I will refer to as a “critical donation on my performance.” Yes, that was probably the largest and most significant.
Did you have one, David?
David Frei: Well, I think mine is more of a general nature. I always talk about these dogs as being real dogs shown in dog shows by real people. So they’re just like your dogs at home. They’re not just show dogs that sit around on doggie cushions eating doggie bon-bons all week long. They do all those things at home that your dog does. They shed on our black clothes and steal food off the counters. They even drink out of the toilet once in a while.
When they come to a dog show they just continue to do those cute things; whether it’s going over to the edge of the ring and jumping up to say hello to the fans, or have some child pet them and interact with them, or if they’re interacting with another dog in the ring and playing. I think that’s something that we try to show people, that they’re just like your dogs at home. They just dress up on weekends and go to dog shows, but other than that they’re real dogs.
Now, John, I can’t talk to you without mentioning Mr. Peterman, which is such a beloved character. How did you get involved with Seinfeld, and what was it like to work on such an iconic series?
John O’Hurley: Well, Seinfeld literally was just an absolutely happenchance moment. The series that I had on ABC was cancelled on a Thursday morning. I was out, literally, crying in my beer that night trying to take the cancellation as personally as I possibly could. Then, David’s office called and just said they had this guest star on the next [episode]. They were starting the next day. They knew that my show was cancelled. So, they said, “Would you like to come over and do it? It’s this, kind of, wacky cataloguer named J. Peterman.” Originally I said no. My manager called me the following morning and said, “Oh, just get up and go have fun. Blow the series out of your system.” That’s what happened. (laughs) But originally I said no to it.
They hadn’t even completed the episode and by the end of the week they had written in that Elaine was then working for the J. Peterman catalogue. That began the last four seasons of my venue there on Seinfeld. As I look back over my shoulder at it, I remember it was kind of like playing with a championship team in the championship season. You always had a sense that what you’re doing was something that was going to be part of television history.
David Frei: I always have great fun with John. We’ll be sitting there, we’ll be talking, we’re looking into the ring, and John will say something. I’ll say: That wasn’t John. That was J. Peterman. Where’s Jerry? Where’s Elaine? Where will be Kramer? Where are these people? So that character is still evoked by a lot of the things that he says and does. I think that’s great fun for all of us.
John O’Hurley: I still add a few Peterman-isms in.
David Frei: Goes back to your W.C. Fields quote about working with children and animals and working with John O’Hurley.
John O’Hurley: Much tougher.
David Frei: He introduced me somewhere the other night and made some great speech introducing me. I said: Oh my God, how am I going to follow that? I thought – you know, it’s just like standing next to him on television. He’s 6’3”, great hair, lean and beautiful. Here I am, some little guy in a tux. (laughs) It’s great fun to be with him, but it’s a constant challenge to be on top of everything.
Clue us in on just some of the ones to watch this year.
John O’Hurley: Well, I’ll begin. Before David speaks, I’m going to cover it and say that this was the first time – and I remarked about this to David – this is the first time he’s not been able to point me towards a potential winner. Because we had so many great dogs this year. It’s an absolute, incredible line-up that we have this year. Even David, even someone that’s able to pierce the veil and see who’s good and who’s not, was not able to come up with even three or four that he could name, because there were so many.
David Frei: It’s always fun at the dog show because we don’t always know who’s entered as we get there. I think the top dog in the group entered in four different groups, so top ten dogs all over the place. But not really any one that you can look at and say, “This is the one that’s going to win; he’s winning everything.” All these dogs have been winning all year long in different places. This is one of the rare times where they’re all in the same place at the same time. So, yes, there are dogs to watch, eventually, as we got to it, but going in it was wide open. We had fun getting to that point at the end.
John O’Hurley: David, I think you’ll agree with me when I say that this was some of the most exciting group competitions we’ve had in the twelve years.
David Frei: It seems like every time that we sat there and looked at the final line-up – or even the beginning line-up in the group after our camera had done its walk-by of every single dog in the group – saying, “Oh my God. This is a tough group. You’re going to need to have more than four ribbons.” That’s exactly the way it was all day long.