It's been 11 years since actor John O'Hurley began an unlikely new Thanksgiving tradition: Co-hosting a dog show on national television in front of tens of millions of viewers. And, the 58-year-old admits, he has the now-famous mockumentary "Best In Show" to thank for the gig. After an executive at NBC (the same network that aired "Seinfeld," in which O'Hurley starred as the over-the-top catalog mogul J. Peterman) watched the Christopher Guest film that satirizes the world of dog shows, he decided a real-life dog show would be the perfect fit to fill the post-parade slot in the Thanksgiving Day TV lineup. And O'Hurley would be the perfect person to co-host it.
"I looked at this and as strange as it was, I said, 'You know, for some reason I have to do this,'" he tells omg! of hosting what's now "The National Dog Show Presented by Purina." "It was just an odd opportunity and yet it's returned just so much joy to me over the 11 years I've been doing it."
Every year a whopping 2,000 show dogs representing more than 150 breeds descend on the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, and while canine expert David Frei provides commentary and sportscaster Mary Carillio does the sideline interviews (with the handlers, not the actual canines), O'Hurley brings plenty of humor to the show and admits he's more of a dog lover than an expert … though he's learned plenty over the last decade.
"I'm amazed at how well behaved the dogs are with each other. You take a dog to go to a dog park and you get a dog fight in the middle of it. That doesn't happen at the dog show," O'Hurley explains. "You have 2,000 well-behaved dogs who are just happy as heck to be there. It's a very exciting arena with all these great smells and all these people around who want to pet them. There really is an aesthetic sense to it. You're seeing the best of the breeds and they are just beautiful to see."
As for why he thinks the show pulls in more than 20 million viewers every year, O'Hurley says it's simply too difficult for viewers to pass the pups by.
"I think it's a perfect piece of television. It falls on a huge family day and there's something for everybody, whether you're 5 or 95, everybody loves the world of dogs," he shares. "If you're twiddling through the remote and you come upon the dog show you just have to pause and watch it for a little while."
The "Dancing With the Stars" contestant has had dogs in his life since he was just 4 years old and his family brought home a Dachshund named Taffy. Today, he and wife Lisa are raising a King Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Sadie and a Havanese named Lucy (along with their son, William, who turns 6 in December), but O'Hurley is adamant about the fact that dog ownership and those considering it should think long and hard.
"Having a dog really is a lifelong responsibility. You're responsible for that little life in the same way that you would be for a child. And, unfortunately, our rescue shelters are filled with people who didn't take the responsibility seriously. It's not a trial thing," notes O'Hurley, who works with others involved with the dog show to promote responsible pet ownership. "It's not, 'Oh it's a cute puppy, but unfortunately as it grew up it doesn't fit our lifestyle.' Get to know the idiosyncrasies of each breed and make sure they fit your lifestyle," he implores.
But whether or not a dog fits your lifestyle, dogs will be dogs, as O'Hurley occasionally gets to see firsthand. "In show number three, a Great Dane was walking around the ring, walked in front of David and me at the NBC booth, took one look at us, and then squatted down and gave a little review of our performance," he recalls with a laugh. "And it took someone with Olympic elephant equipment to get it out of there."
"The National Dog Show Presented by Purina" airs Thanksgiving Day at 12 p.m. ET/PT.