For actor John O'Hurley, who grew up thinking there were only about 10 breeds of dogs in the world, hosting NBC's third annual broadcast of the National Dog Show "is more fun than you can even imagine."
"As a kid, you'd go to these pet shops in a mall and see the puppies, figuring, that's it, those are all the kinds of dogs there are," he said. "And then you come here and there are literally hundreds of breeds, all bred for a purpose, and we're celebrating them. It's one of the great things about Thanksgiving day."
O'Hurley, along with commentator David Frei, will host the two-hour program for a third year. It airs just after the parades wind down.
O'Hurley said he is tickled that the broadcast's Thanksgiv-ing day presence was inspired by the 2000 theatrical movie "Best in Show," a spoof of the personalities in the dog show world. He said that John Miller of NBC Sports "laughed his way through it one weekend" when the network was trying to fill the time slot after the Macy's parade.
"He got the bright idea that it would be fun if we rebranded one of the established, older shows, called it the National Dog Show and put it on after the parade," O'Hurley said. "At 10:30 a.m. that following Monday, I got a call. John said, 'Woof woof,' which is how I became host of this dog show."
The show is "family entertainment designed for people to watch while the turkey cooks," Frei said, adding that viewers "always, absolutely watch the show with their dogs."
"It's the alma mater factor. You're watching with your golden retriever, rooting for the golden to win. And you say, 'Oh, Fluffy, I know you could be out there too if I gave you a bath every week instead of every month and if I fed you a few less cookies.' "
O'Hurley, perhaps best known as the quirky J. Peterman on "Seinfeld," said the dogs enjoy being on parade.
"I think there is a certain energy, that dogs are aware when people are excited by them," he said. "When they walk into the arena, they walk in a sprightly way and they respond with a certain amount of adrenalin."
Frei, who also is the TV voice of New York's Westminster Kennel Club Show (which airs in February), said working with O'Hurley on the broadcast is "like taking a friend to a dog show for the first time. He'll say 'What's the deal on that dog's haircut?' Or, 'There's a dog I'd like to take on a date.' He doesn't try to be the expert."
At last year's show, Frei said, "the Puli flashed on the screen -- that's the dog that looks like a mop, with the coat like dreadlocks -- and John says, 'Oh Whoopi, we've found your hair!' This is supposed to be fun for those watching the show, and John is very much a comic."
O'Hurley said the broadcast is also designed to educate viewers, not only about the history of individual breeds, but also about the responsibility of owning a dog.
"This show is a representation of many breeds, each with characteristics that are opposite or parallel to your lifestyle," he said. "People so often choose dogs that are wrong for them. They pick them because they're cute. Then the owner can't handle it and the dog ends up in a shelter. We'd like to steer people away from those wrong decisions."
The broadcast also includes nutrition and health tips for dog owners.
"We're doing a fitness segment this year," O'Hurley said. "Eddie [the Jack Russell terrier from 'Frasier'] and I will show you how your dog can be your fitness partner. I do all these push-ups while Eddie sits on my back. Then he's next to me on a treadmill. Eddie is so much fun."
O'Hurley expressed a fondness for Jack Russells, among other favorites. "Some of the breeds I fall in love with for their personalities," he said. "I like the Westies [West Highland White Terriers] a lot, and I am a big fan of Boston terriers. I just love their expressions."
O'Hurley's own dogs are a Maltese named Scoshi, and a rescued Labrador-Daschund mix named Betty, both of whom occasionally respond to O'Hurley's appearance on "Seinfeld" reruns. "My wife will say, 'There's Dad.' And sometimes they'll pick up on the voice."
Frei said the appeal of dogs on TV is undeniable. "Whether it's Lassie going for help or Eddie on 'Frasier' chewing up the couch, we relate. We've been there," he said. "Today we have smaller family units and maybe there's a greater spiritual connection with dogs as part of the family."
Frei said if O'Hurley were a dog, "he'd be an Irish terrier. He has that wavy perfect hair, that gleam in his eye, and that same sort of stature that says, 'I'm in charge here and having a great time doing it.' "
O'Hurley has a different take on his life as a dog. "Maybe a Doberman," he said, picking the breed that won last year's show. "They walk tall and when they walk into a room, you have a tendency to notice."
O'Hurley said there's so much to notice at the Philadelphia show. "You walk around with a smile on your face all day. I love that the dogs are just being dogs. There's no sense of the day being any different for them, and they just put up with everything," he said. "The poofing, all that poofing the handlers do. How many different hair products? You're talking to a guy whose hair hasn't moved in 49 years."
National dog show
Thursday at noon on NBC