OAKS, Pa. – It is the most wonderful time of the year. . . For dog lovers. Of course, we are talking about a sacred tradition of Thanksgiving for millions of Americans: before the turkey and football, they cuddle up on the sofa to watch the National Dog Show.
The contest airs on NBC after the Macy's Day of Thanksgiving Parade, which allows mom, dad, kids, grandmother, and yes, even the family pet, to see the competitors of four Paws, encourage your favorite races and guess who will win better in the show. .
The 20 million fans glued to television this year already know the answer: GCHP Pinnacle Tennessee Whiskey, a bluish whippet from Sugar Valley, Ga. Whiskey, with its elegant lines and big brown eyes, beat the favorites of the crowd: a pin of Doberman and King Charles Cavalier spaniel, and the favorite, a wire fox terrier who had a lot of excitement and a brilliant series of victories in the best show in the world.
Besides being very popular, the two-hour broadcast has a secret, rare on this day of breaking news and social networks: the program was carried out last weekend, but the results remained monitored for six days .
"I have a great friend from the Irish bar that we used to hang out with in a great sports player," says David Frei, who has co-hosted the National Dog Show since it was first broadcast in 2002. He would always ask who won. I said, "You're not trying to turn this into a kind of bet, right?" He said: "No, no, I'm going to have dinner with my family and I just want them to think I'm very smart with dogs."
And that, my friends, is the simple genius behind this show. People love dogs. They love having them: there are 90 million dogs in the United States. They love to buy them: owners will spend $ 59 billion this year on food, veterinary care, toys, attire and more, including dog birthdays. And they love to see them at Thanksgiving: The National Dog Show is the best-rated canine contest in the country, defeating Puppy Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday and the Westminster Dog Show in February.
Frei's co-host, actor John O & # 39; Hurley, calls it the "happiest day of the year." I have always said that I am a better person with a dog in my lap. They only have an infectious influence in our lives. You see it in this room: everyone was happy today. "
The show is the creation of Jon Miller, president of NBC Sports programming. In 2002, the Bethesda native saw the Christopher Guest movie "Best in Show, "a comedy about a fictional dog show." The dog lover of a lifetime thought that real The dog show could work on television if the time interval was right, for example, a family vacation. He persuaded Purina to sponsor him, and contacted the oldest dog show in the country: The Kennel Club of Philadelphia, which exhibited dogs for the first time at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.
Then Miller went to his bosses, who doubted that a dog show could be called sports, or even a good television. But the repetitions of "It's a wonderful life" after the Macy's parade had bad grades, so Miller got the green light for those two hours, but only for that year.
"You know what?" Jeff Zucker, who was then his chief boss, told him. "You can not do worse, we're going to give it a try."
The renowned "National Dog Show" was first broadcast in November of that year. Miller prayed that it would coincide with the ratings of "It's a wonderful life", around 1 million spectators. The next morning, he was at the cinema when Zucker called: "Did you see the numbers of your dog show?" More than 18 million people had seen, higher scores than most primetime hits. "That does not happen much in our business," says Miller. An overnight classic (and a great money maker for NBC) was born.
From the beginning, the program has had two co-hosts: Frei, an internationally recognized expert in purebred dogs and father of the therapy dogs movement, and dog lover O'Hurley, best known for playing J. Peterman in "Seinfeld".
"I'm the mastermind behind the operation," jokes Frei.
"And I take that genius and I make it acceptable for the United States," replies O'Hurley.
The two are close friends and rock stars in dog shows, and are constantly stopped by selfies in person or, failing that, with their cardboard cutouts. But both insist that dogs deserve attention.
"We want to get so many close-ups of the dogs' camera so that everyone has the opportunity to feel what we feel for them," says O'Hurley.
About 10 years ago, the Hall of Fame sports presenter, Mary Carillo, added the program to her duties (professional tennis, Olympic Games) because she loves dogs. She worked on both Westminster and this show: Westminster is a bit more reserved, she says, while the National Dog Show is more fun.
"It's a more relaxed atmosphere here," she says. "There is something very happy in seeing a beautiful, well
The dogs behaved. "
But make no mistake: this is a serious matter for competitive laziness. There were more than 2,000 dogs in the exhibition hall outside of Philadelphia, and it was possible to shake the legs with each of them because it is one of the three "bank events" in the United States, with designated spaces behind the stage where dogs are shown when you are not being judged. It's an opportunity to see an amazing canine variety, from five-pound Yorkies to 200-pound mastiffs. When they are not in the ring, the sample dogs are like any other: playing, barking, stealing kisses and being super cute.
Everyone at the National Dog Show is passionate about dogs, which means educating people about the pros and cons of each breed. Pure-bred breeds were developed to perform specific tasks (hunting, tracking, herd, guard and the like), except toy dogs, which were primarily pets. The judges look for the ideal version of each race, and each person has a favorite.
"I always lean towards the Irish settlers because their posture and the reddish hair that flows in the breeze looks like the redhead who has just entered the cocktail," says O'Hurley. Frei loves Afghans; Carillo is partial to the terriers because "they always look like they're smiling."
How to choose? The group of toys was thrown into the ring for the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy". (And yes, later they played "Who let the dogs out?" Because, of course, they did). There were dogs that looked like lions, dogs that looked like mops, dogs that looked like pillows and one that looked like a carwash in motion.
The champions are not disturbed by the lights, the music, the crowds. They stop while the judge examines his body, then advances in the ring. You can not deny the power of shameless ass movement. It's a beauty contest Y A personality contest.
"He loves to show," says Fay Adcox, owner of Ghost, a 4-year-old Norwegian buhund. "He has attitude. You tell him he's a good boy, and he just points his things. "
Through the magic of television, seven hours to two are edited: highlights of each group, the best show and functions behind the scenes. Not all races do the transmission, but each one is published online.
Another thing on the full screen in the ring, but discreetly edited for family television: dog breeding. Exhibition dogs can not be spayed or neutered and must have all their parts intact. The American Kennel Club requires that all men have two testicles and that judges verify if there are fakes. (In Europe, one is enough, but American dogs must have two.) U.S.A.!)
But the real trick is to keep the results secret, without headlines, tweets or pictures of the winner. Reporters and photographers are seized until the transmission ends, and there have been no major violations for 17 years.
"There's a wave of goodwill that cascades down on canine media and traditional media," says Steve Griffith, director of public relations for the show. Hundreds of people, including the general public in the show, tell the secret because it's fun and good for the world of dogs. "Our goal is to make it a wonderful surprise on Thanksgiving Day."
After judging 192 this year, the contest for the best show was reduced to seven group winners: Bella, a Pembroke Welsh corgi representing the group of shepherds; Billy, a Lhasa member of the non-sports group; Ducky, a retriever from the Chesapeake Bay sports group; King, the wire terrier of the terrier group; Bogie, a king Charles Cavalier spaniel of the toy group; Irupe, a doberman pinscher of the working group; and Whiskey, representing the group of bloodhounds.
The runner-up was the Doberman, then the arena fell silent. "Choose my dog!" A girl yelled from the audience. The best in the show: the judge pointed to the whiplash, which caused audible gasps from the crowd.
The whiskey, it must be said, is a beautiful dog. And a very good boy.
"It's a typical type of personality: relaxed, friendly, clean, easy to train at home, quiet, and that's what makes it a lovely dog," says owner Justin Smithey, who has been showing the race for two decades. "He is a great exhibition dog because he is not intimidated by an environment like this."
Actually, the 3-year-old dog is already an old professional in the circuit of shows: Whiskey is the most important hunting dog in the country, and this was his 20th best show. The grand prize: $ 1,500, a large ribbon and Purina snacks served on a silver platter.
Both Frei and O Hurley, who always try to question the judges, were surprised. "It was not even my second choice," says O & # 39; Hurley. The wire haired terrier seemed a bit slow. It was his to lose, and I think he lost it. "
In the end, who cares who wins? To the breeders and manipulators, of course. For the rest of us, and perhaps even the show dogs themselves, probably not. Each dog is a winner in the eyes of its owner.
"I read somewhere that when you die and go to heaven, all the dogs you've loved will run to greet you," says Carillo. "On a day like Thanksgiving, you can really be grateful for what you give your life."