John O’Hurley & David Frei
Best in Show
by Jay S. Jacobs
For fifteen years, they have been the faces of dog shows. Well, the non-furry faces, and sadly, arguably the ones that most people don’t go “awwww” over. In a sea of adorable canine action, actor John O’Hurley (Mr. Peterman from Seinfeld!) and long-time dog show host David Frei have been bringing us The National Dog Show every Thanksgiving for the last 15 years.
In a decade and a half, these dedicated and tireless cheerleaders for man’s best friend have made the dog show an annual tradition for starving family members, between the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and football, families settle in the living room, smelling the Thanksgiving feast cooking and watching some of the most adorable breeds in the world strutting their stuff.
A couple of weeks before the latest National Dog Show, we were able to take part in a conference call again with the guys, to discuss how dogs, and the dog show, have changed their lives.
A few years ago, when I spoke with you we were discussing the old W.C. Fields line that you should never work with children and animals because they always steal the spotlight from you. So, have you guys had any situations in the show recently where the spotlight was stolen?
John O’Hurley: (laughs) Well, let’s see. We had my son on last year on the show. They mic’d him up for a segment that we were doing on why we were thankful for dogs. Well, he happened to have a little school friend accompanying him for the day at the National Dog Show. So once he finished his little piece about thanking dogs he as he’s taking the mic off he turns to his friend and goes, “This is pretty much my life. This is pretty much my life every day.” (They laugh.)
How about you David? Did you have any?
David Frei: Well, we just did a press event today for the Kennel Club of Philadelphia show which is the National Dog Show. We did it at the Pet Plan Offices – Pet Plan Health Insurance offices. They brought in a classroom of probably first graders and they were there with all the dogs that we had – the new breed dogs and the therapy dogs that are part of the National Dog Show ambassador therapy dog team. I was the emcee, and I guarantee you there weren’t many pictures taken of me today. (O’Hurley laughs) It was all the dogs and the kids, so it’s great fun. And, of course, that’s what it’s all about is dogs and kids – so we have a great time.
John O’Hurley: It is. In fact, actually I would say that one of the on-camera pieces that we did last year, David, you and I were upstaged by the bloodhound.
David Frei: (laughs) Yes, that’s true.
John O’Hurley: He was licking you all over the place during the spot, yes.
David Frei: As Mary Carillo once said about the Olympics, “It’s the only sport that she covers where the competitors lick her.”
John O’Hurley: That’s right.
As a native Philadelphian we’re very proud of the dog show. How involved has the community been in the show? Also, do you guys get any time to see any of our city while you’re here?
John O’Hurley: Well, yes, I have enjoyed all 15 years for the reason that we are there are in Philadelphia. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities. I love the increased renovation that they’ve been undergoing there and restoring a lot of the history of the community. Regarding the response to the show, now that we have a permanent home out there in Oaks, Pennsylvania, we have found that the audiences grow every year. We have upwards of 30,000 people a day that come through there and it’s just so wonderful. They’ve got the idea that a benched show like ours is a place that children will have a full day of fun. That seems to be the way that it’s grown.
David Frei: Hey, the other thing is too that this has become the month that has been declared, “National Dog Show Month” in Philadelphia, so we know we’re well received. Not just from the crowds that come to see us at the show, but in terms of the community and media involvement and things. People are excited to see us and excited to be a part of what we’re doing.
How is the Beverly Hills Dog Show going to be different from the National Dog Show?
John O’Hurley: Well, I will say straight out that David and I have had our hands on a lot of the birth of the Beverly Hills Dog Show. We want it to look different. Everybody wants it to look different. They want it to be the promise of what Beverly Hills would bring to the dog show world. There’s been a whole redesign of the staging that’s used. It will be – I hate to use this word – but it’ll be much more Victoria’s Secret runway. (Frei laughs.) It’ll have that feel to it. We’ll take advantage of the surroundings in Beverly Hills. It’s going to have a little bit of the flavor and the splash of what you’d hope an event in Hollywood would be like.
Do you think it will be benched as well?
David Frei: No, it is not a benched dog show. It’s California style. We’ll all come and enjoy it. It’s at a fairgrounds location. The people of Beverly Hills have been very embracing of what we’re doing there as well, so we think it’ll be great fun for everybody. We hope that we can communicate that on the telecast. One more thing about that too is the show is telecast on USA Network in its original telecast and then is repeated a week later on NBC.
I believe this is the 15th year anniversary of the National Dog Show. Am I correct in saying so?
John O’Hurley: Yes, that’s correct.
David Frei: It is, and I think that’s our crystal anniversary. I hope John’s picking out some nice piece of crystal for me.
John O’Hurley: I would went down the list and I don’t know, my chronologically said, “Papier-mâché.”
What do you tribute the fascination of the public in watching man’s best friend compete over and over again these shows? Why do you think we are so fascinated?
John O’Hurley: I’ll answer first, David. My perspective is as just a television viewer. You have the remote in your hands. You’re not used to what dog shows are. You just happen to be flipping through the channels. The moment that it lands upon the National Dog Show and you see the close-up faces of all of these dogs, the expressions and the fact that they are beautiful representatives of their particular breed – you stop. You stop and you watch. You get glued to it. You continue to watch it. You find yourself an hour or two into it. It’s just very compelling television from that. There’s something about the look of a dog’s face that I think is just a very compelling thing. Now add to that that we have so many loyal viewers because we have so many loyal dog owners that have the – as David refers to it – “the alma mater factor” sitting there on the couch next to them. Not only that, people that love certain breeds of dogs. We have a wonderful built-in audience of dog lovers all across the nation. Again, I think it’s compelling television that when you go channel surfing, anytime you see the close-up of a dog you’re going to stop.
David, what is your take on that? You’ve been doing this for a very long time, now, as the host of Westminster Dog Show. What do you feel our fascination is? There’s always a click to that.
David Frei: Well, our dogs are now members of our family. We used to have dogs that do work for us, whether it was herd our animals, or get the rats out of our kitchen, or pull a cart, or something like that. Nowadays, they don’t need to do that. We keep them because of those unique temperaments and personalities that were developed because of the things that they were bred to do. They become members of our family. It’s not just open the door and let them out, it’s let’s go for a walk together. I think when people are watching us on television they have that same feeling as John talked about – the alma matter factor. I also think that just the fact that our dogs that they see in the dog show do the same things at home that your dog is doing at home. We want you to relate to that and have this be a celebration of the dog in your life, whether they’re a purebred dog, or a mixed breed dog, or a cat even – we let the cats in there sometimes too. It’s great fun for us all in that respect. We’ll sit there with our Brittany on the couch and say, “You know what? Grace, we’re going to root for the Brittany today, because I know you and I could be out there and we can be doing just as well if I gave you a bath once a month, instead of once every six months, and maybe we both did a little roadwork.” So it’s great fun in that respect. It’s easy to relate to.
I know you gentleman are quite involved in therapy dogs. Can you tell us about their job and what it takes for them to become a therapy dog? They’re not just beautiful specimens of their breed, but they give back to children and adults.
David Frei: Well, it’s a natural thing for dogs. They are spontaneous. They have unconditional love. They’re universally accepting of everybody. When a dog walks into the room, the energy changes. People smile, they talk, they do things that get their mind off any problems they might have. We can bring you a little bit of that. When you see the dog on TV, you can’t help but smile and think about the great things that they do for you every day. John has written books about this stuff now that he’s learned all about them. He’s been a great advocate for therapy dogs. He’s come to the Ronald McDonald house and performed, if you will, with therapy dogs there with him as he reads his book about The Perfect Dog to them.
What is that book?
John O’Hurley: Well, I have several that I’ve written. Three now. Two that are more autobiographical that one is called, It’s Okay to Miss the Bed on the First Jump and the Other Life Lessons I’ve Learned from my Dogs. The follow-up book to that was, Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It. Then I wrote a children’s book that came out. Kind of a Dr. Seuss style book that I wrote. It was a poem called The Perfect Dog that ends with the line, “The dog that is perfect is the one next to you.” Oddly enough that has now been become a musical which is now being performed at the Children’s Theater there in Philadelphia, the weekend before the National Dog Show so it’s going to be wonderful. Yes it’s wonderful. They do it. It’s done all over the world now. The musical has become quite popular, so it’s a lot of fun.
The Beverly Hills Dog Show is going to be exciting. How did this concept transpire? Now is this also sponsored by Purina?
John O’Hurley: They are joining us as well, yes.
Wonderful. How did the show transpire? How did you gentlemen get together and say, “This would be an awesome dog show to have?”
John O’Hurley: Well, I know there was a whole….
David Frei: The dog shows…
John O’Hurley: I’m sorry Dave, you go ahead…
David Frei: That’s all right. The basic background is that there were the three major dog shows they were all east-coast based – the Westminster Kennel Club, the National Dog Show in Philadelphia, and the AKC National Championship in Orlando, Florida. It made sense to look to the west. When the contract at the NBC and USA Network ended with Westminster they said, “What are we going to do for this?” They chose Beverly Hills, partly because it’s just down the street from where John lives and we knew they could commit him right away. We thought it would be fun to be there with the celebrities and having a nice, warm weather climate to do a dog show in. John I know is very excited to have that be there in his backyard.
John O’Hurley: I truly am and only because when you say, The Beverly Hills Dog Show you immediately smile. There’s an inherent expectation of it being really interesting potential from the show and we certainly hope to deliver on it. I also think what’s really magical about the show is that if we found another time of the year – Easter Sunday – which is another one of those family times of the year. There’s not a lot of sports to conflict. There’s not a lot of other programming on. So it’s a wonderful day of the year. Also, in many respects a family day, Easter Sunday, so we have almost found a similar ground to what Thanksgiving is. It will give us, hopefully, a great viewing audience – although, we’re going to be in the evening.
When is the date? Easter Sunday of 2017?
David Frei: Easter Sunday. April 16 [next] year. The show itself is shot in March in California – on March 4. We’ll add to it and create a nice television event for everybody.
Can you tell me what celebrities we can expect to see out there? Beverly Hills is close to Hollywood. You’re going to have a lot of star power out there.
David Frei: Our best celebrity is involved in the show and that’s John, who’s become a celebrity. Who’s more identified with dogs in this country than John O’Hurley? We’re lucky to have him. We’ll hopefully bring along a few of his friends as well.
John O’Hurley: Without revealing names, we will have a celebrity involvement. We hope we’ll have many.
David, maybe you can tell me can you tell me about his new breed that’s going to be here in Philadelphia – the one that looks like a little koala bear?
David Frei: The Pumi. The Pumi looks more like a koala bear than any other breed of dog. It’s a little, curly black coated dog. It says in the standard it’s supposed to have a whimsical look about it. It creates that with its facial expression and its ears. John you’ve met the Pumi as well.
John O’Hurley: Oh, I did, yes. I have to tell you it became one of my favorite little breeds. The texture of the coat of a Pumi is just extraordinary. It’s just like a wonderful, little curled pile rug you just want to stroke. It’s just an adorable dog. (To Dave) You’re right, the face is just adorable. It’s a snuggler.
John, speaking of star power, here in Philadelphia at the gala the night before are you doing another show for us?
John O’Hurley: I will be entertaining. I’ll be doing a piece of my one-man show that I’ve been touring around the country and just finished here in New York with on Broadway which is called, A Man with Standards. I’ll be doing a segment of the show for that on Friday night for the charity gala.
David, I know you do the things with therapy dogs for the Ronald McDonald house and you had a big thing at Pet Plan Insurance today. Can you give me a little bit background on that?
David Frei: Well, we’ve been involved through with Steve Griffith leading the way. We created a therapy dog ambassador program that goes along with the Kennel Club of Philadelphia and the National Dog Show presented by Purina. That has provided a lot of great experiences for people who are in need of the things that therapy dog bring us. It’s also brought some recognition to some wonderful people who are very involved with their dogs, visiting at healthcare facilities all over the country, especially here at the Ronald McDonald house in Philadelphia. [It] is the very first of 300 and some worldwide Ronald McDonald houses to be formed, so it’s great to have a partner like them in what we do, and to recognize their great work as well as the great work of the therapy dogs and the people that visit there.
That’s terrific. And I know you’re involved in therapy dogs all along…
David Frei: My dogs do great things for people. I’m lucky enough to be the guy that brings them. I’m the transportation and the treat carrier. They do the work. I just try to stay out of their way when they’re dealing with people.
That’s terrific. I cannot wait for the show here in Philly.
David Frei: You’re getting a bonus this year with John and his and his The Perfect Dog at Center Theater in Norristown. He’s actually not in it, but it’s his show and it’s a wonderful show. They put it on for us at a fundraising gala here last year, and as John has told you, it’s in a lot of places around the world. So it’s fun to have that. It’s part of the National Dog Show in Philadelphia celebration – so it’s great to have it here.
Do you have some special stories that stick in your mind from years past about dogs that you’ve met or about things that have happened during the show?
John O’Hurley: David, I’ll let you go first. I know you have some.
David Frei: (laughs) Well, the great thing about the dog show is that you get to see dogs being dogs. I’ve said for all the years that I’ve done the previous dog shows on television, and for the National Dog Show, that I want people to know that the dogs that they see on television are more than show dogs. They are real dogs, shown by real people. These dogs do the same things at home that your dog does at home. They steal food off the counters. They shed on your black clothes and sleep on our couches. Maybe even drink out of a toilet once in a while. But the main thing about the dog show, coming in person and attending, is that you get to see all these athletes – these canine athletes – up close and personal. It’s the only sport that I know of where you can go backstage and hug the competitors. I don’t think you can go back and hug Tom Brady just anytime at all. (O’Hurley laughs.) It’s fun to be here and see all these dogs that are the stars on television. You can come and hug John and me too, we’re fine with that.
John O’Hurley: That’s the important part of the benched show, that David and I have to remain there too, so we are just as huggable and just as approachable.
Did you ever wish an outcome would’ve been different? Putting your hat on as a judge maybe?
David Frei: Sure. It happens all the time. That’s the beauty of dog shows. You can judge from outside the ring. People sitting at home can root for whatever dog they want, for whatever reason they want. It did something cute, or it’s like my dog at home, or it’s the same color, or I love that hair, or it just did something cute with somebody outside the stands. I’ll walk around at a dog show and watch them judging. There will be times that a judge points to a certain dog to win and I’d say, “Why didn’t they pick this other dog?” It all depends on that one person. It’s not a vote or anything, so that’s fun. I can like whatever dog I want for whatever reason I want to.
John O’Hurley: I will add in that David’s eye is very good. It’s a very trained eye. He has taught me well. I have lived in his shadow now for 15 years. However, I’m getting the point where I’m standing on my own right now. I’m getting a much better eye. I have a wonderful database back in my grey matter there of dogs I’ve seen of certain breeds that I know. I can set the standard in my head and I can judge against them.
David Frei: John, has come to have a very good eye. When we’re sitting there watching and I say, “Who do your like?” he can often come up with the right dog, or dogs that should be chosen from. I’m proud of being his mentor in that respect.
John O’Hurley: It is nice to see that the way the show has grown is that I would say all the dogs that you see have all been breed winners at one point – not just that day, but are constant breed winners – so we’re getting the best dogs in the country to come to the show.
There are so many adorable breeds in the show and you guys are obviously both huge dog lovers. I was just wondering what breeds do you guys live with as family?
David Frei: Well, I have a Brittany and a Cavalier. I have a Brittany named Grace who is a retired show champion, but also a certified registered therapy dog and does lots of therapy work. My Cavalier Angel dabbled in the show world but has made her impact as a therapy dog too. Before that I had Afghan Hounds. Those are my three breeds on the record. But you know what? I’m supposed to like them all and I do.
John O’Hurley: I have the cousin to David’s Cavalier. Her name is Sadie. Just about the same age. She has a little bit of an overbite, so she is not show material, but she doesn’t know that and we don’t tell her. I find that it’s healthy if she has the healthier self-image. Then we also have a breed called a Havanese, which is a wonderful breed. A little larger than a Maltese would be. I have come to love that breed. If there is a perfect breed for families that just want a good, family dog, that is the one I would recommend. It’s such a nice, docile addition to the family that will adopt to the energy of the family and very easy – much more self-maintaining then most dogs are.
Terrific. And John I can’t talk to you without mentioning Mr. Peterman, which is such a beloved character. What was it like to be part of such an iconic series? And do you feel that J. Peterman helped to make all the other things like the dog show or The Fantastiks – which you’re going to be doing or Devious Maids or Dancing With the Stars possible for you?
John O’Hurley: Yes, I think if I have to look back on the one brand – the “one belt loop I was able to slip my finger through” – that was probably the one that has carried me through my entire career. I’m eternally grateful for being part of the rhumba line of people that have been able to make their life and their livelihood off the series of Seinfeld. It was like playing with the championship team in the championship season.
David has, obviously, been involved with dog shows for many years, but how did you first get involved with the dog show world?
John O’Hurley: Well, this came out of the movie Best in Show. One of the heads of NBC sports took home the tape of the show and watched it over the weekend, comes back in Monday morning to NBC and says, “I know what we’re going to do for that two-hour slot after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade right before football.” He said we’re going to do a dog show. They about laughed him out of the office. Sure enough, by the end of the day he had gotten the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, he’d gotten Purina as a sponsor. Tuesday morning he picked up the phone and called me in Los Angeles. I answered the phone and he said, “Woof, woof.” That’s how it all started.
Can you explain what happens behind the scenes and what the experience is like during the competition?
David Frei: Sure. It’s a benched dog show so we see the dog in the ring for two minutes, but it’s taken awhile to get him to that point. For some people, it’s a lifetime of involvement with particular breeds. There’s conditioning, training, roadwork, grooming, bathing. Some of that stuff goes on at the day of the show, just as touchup work to get dog ready for the ring. Then they must compete at three different levels. It’s like an advancing bracket in sports, where first they compete in the breed level. If they win their breed – 202 breeds and varieties are eligible – they advance in to their group. There are seven groups, if they win the group they advance into the final seven, the lineup for best in show. That’s the way the dog show goes during the day. The rest of the time, when the dogs are not in the ring and they’re on the bench, people can come up and talk to them and talk to the people.
What keeps you coming back after 15 years of hosting the show?
John O’Hurley: Well, it’s my favorite day of the year. It’s become our family day as well. I always believe that dogs change the energy in a room, so if you can imagine 2,000 dogs in an arena, everybody there has a smile on their face. Nobody is unhappy. You don’t see dog fights. The energy is so positive and enduring for the entire day that it’s just a joy to be there. It’s just infectious. Everybody’s always smiling and having a good time. The dogs are having a great time. They don’t care who wins, but it’s a chance for them to run around the ring and get a few good sniffs in.
Can you tell us a little bit about the training that goes into showing a dog and how much time is put into it each day or each week?
David Frei: Well, it varies – it really varies. It depends on the dog. Not so much just the breed, but the dog. Some dogs are natural showmen, if you will, that are anxious to get out there and do something with the human that they love. I think that makes it fun for them. It makes it a little easier than if you must convince them that dog showing is fun and that they want to be a part of it. Then it comes to grooming and conditioning. Some dogs are almost self-conditioning in terms of roadwork, running in the yard. Some dogs require a concentrated effort, so you put the dog in top physical shape. Then of course, there is the grooming. It’s going to be a lot different than the American Hairless Terrier that we have today as one of us in breeds that we have in our press event and our show.
John O’Hurley: You can leave the hairdryer home for that one.
David Frei: (laughs) That’s right. Versus an Afghan, or a Komondor, with its big mop coat, but those are all things that people spend their time working on and getting them ready for dog shows and just generally being a part of the family.
I know you just mentioned the Hairless Terrier and you mentioned the Pumi and those are our new breeds for the show this year. Can you talk just a little bit about them?
David Frei: Sure. The American Hairless Terrier is that. It’s a terrier and it is hairless. It’s down from the rat terrier, for people who are familiar with some of the terrier breeds. It’s a small dog with a wedge-shape head, pointed ears and no hair. They are born with a peach fuzz coat, but that goes away at about four, five weeks and they are quite hairless. They are a whole different feel, to put your hands on a dog and the only come up with skin, instead of hair to put all over your own coat. The Pumi, the second new breed, we talked about that a little bit. It is a black, curly-coated, non-shedding dog with a great whimsical expression. Ears that are kind of placed around the head. Has a great look and a great attitude. It’s a herding dog, so it’s a very active athletic dog. Not unlike the Puli. We’ve seen the Puli, the rastafarian dog that John loves so much, but it’s kind of a cousin of that dog. It looks like a koala bear almost. If a koala bear was a dog breed, it would be a Pumi. Then there’s a third new breed. We don’t seem to be able to find one anywhere in this country. There’s a couple of them around that I know of, but they’re scattered and we don’t have an entry of the Sloughi this year. It’s the third new breed. It looks sort of like a greyhound. It’s a Northern African native, if you will, and looks a lot like cross – mostly greyhound but a little bit of Sloughi maybe you can see in it, but great athletic site hound.
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 22, 2016.
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