The National Dog Show — that most surprising of Thanksgiving TV traditions — will air for the 10th year right after the Macy's Parade (Thursday, noon/11c, NBC). We got the program's esteemed cohost, pup expert David Frei, to unleash a few thoughts.
TV Guide Magazine: Why is this show such a good fit with Thanksgiving? Every year, the ratings kill! Last year's show pulled over 18 million viewers.
Frei: If you don't like football or don't want to help in the kitchen, it's perfect! Then there's what I call the "alma mater" factor. You can sit on the couch with your Brittany Spaniel and see a Brittany on the show and say, "Spot, you and I could be up there...if only I bathed you more and gave you a few less cookies!"
TV Guide Magazine: What about us proud mutt owners? It's discrimination!
Frei: The National Dog Show is a celebration of all the dogs in our lives. We have no way of judging dogs that aren't purebred — there's a standard of what exactly they should look like. When it comes to the mixed-breed dog, there are no such standards. You just want one whose tail is wagging. You want one who's happy and makes you happy. That's all that's important.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, at least you make up for the slight by always hosting the annual best mutt contest on The View!
Frei: That was born out of an insult from Joy Behar. One time she said something rude about the Westminster Kennel Club, which I also host, and how it excluded mixed breeds, so they invited me to judge a mutt show. It's been great fun. [Laughs] We make that place more of a bitchfest than usual! Purebreds aren't for everybody, so I always try to educate. People see a Jack Russell on Frasier and think, "Wow, what a great dog! I want one!" But not every dog is Eddie. We also try to alert people about falling for the fad dogs. Despite what Paris Hilton and others like her may think, they are not fashion accessories. Responsible breeders teach people about responsible ownership. That adorable four-pound ball of fluff can grow up to eat your couch. You need to know what you're getting before picking out a pet.
TV Guide Magazine: What would surprise us about show dogs?
Frei: There's so much more to them than the few minutes you see in the competition. They come home with us. They steal food from the counter and drink water from the toilet. They're real dogs.
TV Guide Magazine: Your newest book, Angel on a Leash [bowtiepress.com], is all about therapy dogs and how they are healers and messengers. Do you believe there's a soul connection between dogs and humans?
Frei: I believe that we have a great spiritual and emotional connection to them. Dogs used to be bred to do jobs for us — pull a cart, herd sheep, chase rats, guard the house. Now they're bred to be companions. Even Labradors. A couple hundred thousand Labs are registered with the AKC every year and I would bet 90 percent have never jumped in a pond to bring back a duck. They are members of the family. They can touch us in the most mysterious and profound ways.
TV Guide Magazine: Is it true the movie Best in Show — a scathing satire on dog owners and handlers — inspired the National Dog Show?
Frei: Totally! Jon Miller, the programming president at NBC Sports, created this event 10 year ago because of that movie. Not everyone in the dog world thinks the film's funny, but I certainly do. C'mon! [Laughs] You have to admit this sport is a target-rich environment!