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Turkeys & Pups = Perfect Day


By Mike Hughes For TV America

Along with all its turkey traditions, Thanksgiving now has TV traditions. That tickles Jon Miller, an NBC executive.

“When I go out and talk to people, they’ll sometimes tell me how they remember watching the dog show with their parents on Thanksgiving,” Miller said.

That’s flawed nostalgia, actually. The Thanksgiving-day dog show only dates back to 2002.

Miller devised it to cure an annual problem: Each Thanksgiving, viewers flocked to NBC’s coverage of the Macy’s parade, but then switched channels. “They’d watch the Cowboys game and whoever was beating the Lions that day,” he said.

So he thought of a logical show for NBC to air after the parade. He lined up:

• A corporate sponsor, creating the title: “The National Dog Show Presented by Purina.”

• An existing dog show to modify for TV. The USA Network already had the Westminster Kennel Club, so Miller went with the Philadelphia Kennel Club show, which may or may not be even older. The Westminster show started in 1877, the Philadelphia Kennel Club one didn’t start until 1879 – but were spurred by a show at the Centennial Exposition in 1876,

• A host. That’s John O’Hurley, who sees the show as a natural. “This has all the people,” he said. “Our demographics are absolutely across the board.”

Network people weren’t so sure. Miller predicted five million viewers; instead, he got 20 million.

That’s logical, O’Hurley figures, in a country that has 75 million dogs in 45 million homes. His home has three of them and he likes the enthusiasm of the competitors. “There’s a spirit to the dogs. They seem to really enjoy what they’re doing.”

It helps that the show follows the parade, which is a favorite with families. Now some stay for the dog show, which is:

• Concise. The Westminster show takes six hours; this one takes two. “We want it to be a fun, fast-paced show that informs,” Miller said.

• Accessible. David Frei offers the expertise, but O’Hurley brings the layman’s view. “He’s very funny,” Miller said. “A lot of it is spontaneous.”

Once known only for soap operas, O’Hurley has tried just about everything lately. “If God speaks, he speaks through opportunities,” he said.

He’s ranged from comedy (playing J. Peterman on “Seinfeld”), to game-show host (“Family Feud”) to pianist, golfer, author, musical co-star (“Chicago,” “Spamalot”) and runner-up on the first “Dancing With the Stars.” He also golfs; that’s how Miller – who is also an NBC Sports executive – met him.

O’Hurley brings the same tastes as other viewers. “Rufus was one of my favorite dogs, just an ideal one,” he said. “The fact that he went on to be a therapy dog is all the better.”

A colored bull terrier, Rufus won the National Dog Show in 2005, the Westminster show in 2006 and 126 more. He’s now does therapy visits to kids. He’ll be profiled in this year’s show, which also profiles therapy dogs in general. “I’m so impressed by how they can change people’s lives,” Miller said.

They provide a sort of feel-good story, amid a thankful day of television.

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