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Behind the Scenes With John O’Hurley & David Frei


Behind the Scenes With John O’Hurley & David Frei

I have spent several days over the last few years as part of the team promoting the National Dog Show alongside John O’Hurley and David Frei, the co-hosts of the Thanksgiving Day two-hour special that has become the most prominent showcase for dogdom on the American consumer landscape.

Whether appearing on local or national media outlets with them, or helping to procure dogs for photo shoots and television appearances, I have had the unusual opportunity to see how this whole pre-event publicity campaign thing works. Now, I’ve been in dogs for a long time, but on Thanksgiving Day I’m just like the other 20 million Americans who are listening to David translate his expertise to the uninitiated and to John who provides his everyman’s take on the phenomenon of dog shows.
We all know who these men are on television, but who are they behind the scenes?

In New York City during Thanksgiving Week, one anchor asked John, “If you were a dog breed, what dog would you be?” I don’t remember his answer, but I immediately thought, “Afghan Hound” because he is tall, lean, well-groomed, and slightly aloof.

That aloofness might be part of his public persona, but John also has a silly and sentimental side. He often hums show tunes under his breath while sitting in green rooms. He writes books about dogs, and once played in a high school rock band. In addition to soap operas and his famous Seinfeld role as the enigmatic J. Peterman, John also voiced Roger Doofenshmirtz, the good guy brother of the diabolical Dr. Doofenshmirtz on the Phineas and Ferb cartoon.

National Dog Show Hosts Insights
John O’Hurley (l) and David Frei flank former Morgantown, West Virginia, Mayor Charlene Marshall, aged 90, part of the traveling party promoting the National Dog Show Presented by Purina at the Empire State Building during Thanksgiving Week. – photo by Simon Bruty/National Dog Show

When at the Empire State Building with his family, John was all smiles. He happily snapped goofy photos of his wife, Lisa, doing her best Jessica Lange impression, draped over the life-sized replica of King Kong’s paw. He laid his hand on his 17-year-old son Will’s shoulder as he bragged to us about the fact that Will is already piloting planes and has received early acceptance into Baylor University, although he is still only a high school junior.

If John is the elegant Afghan Hound with a private soft side, David is the Golden Retriever, the All-American jock, the friendly one with the warm eyes who everyone knows. David is quietly famous in a way that you forget about because he’s so approachable. I was once backstage with David at Good Morning America and Lena Dunham, who had a hit TV show on HBO at the time, went out of her way to make sure she got to meet David. He then greeted her by name like they were old friends.

Behind the scenes, David is who you think he is when you see him on television. He’s the guy who makes sure they order pizza for all of us when he knows we’re going to be rushed to the next location at lunchtime. He’s not just the dog expert on set, he’s your favorite uncle. With trusty sidekick Cavalier “Tru Dat” at his side, he’s the guy you’d like to have a beer with at the pub.

With David and John, the easy camaraderie that you see on television comes from a mutual understanding and respect that exists backstage as well. Their longtime working partnership shows in the way they interview together. They always seem to know who should answer first if there is an open question. They easily banter back and forth, with no posturing or egos. They slip into their roles without affectation or pretense, and the authenticity of that interaction is what has made them so popular with that massive audience on Thanksgiving Day.

After spending that behind-the-scenes time with both men, I’m pleased to report that much of their dialog is unscripted and real. John might be the everyman foil to David’s insider expertise, but he is as truly invested as David is in his role as the canine world’s ambassador to the public. In this crazy world where much of what we see is an illusion, they are, thankfully, the real deal.