Movie 'Best in Show' Played Role in NBC-National Dog Show Partnership
FanHouse: So the story goes something like this: you had just seen Best in Show and that, well, led to all this.
Jon Miller: Here's the story: Ten years ago, my wife brings home the movie Best in Show, we watch it with a bunch of friends one raw Saturday January night in the New York area, and found it hysterical.
I came into work Monday and I had been thinking a lot about how much fun the movie was, but really about how entertaining the whole concept was. I asked one of our interns to find out what the second-oldest dog show in America was. He did some research and came back a few hours later and said the second-oldest dog show in America is the Westminster Kennel Club Show.
I then asked, 'What's the oldest dog show?' He told me that it was the Kennel Club of Philadelphia. I had no idea. So we did some research, reached out to executive director Wayne Ferguson, met with him, told him we had this germ of an idea to try to put his show on television, and asked if he'd be interested.
He was obviously very interested, and then we called the folks at Nestle Purina, who we had done a lot of business with at NBC, and asked their chief marketing officer, 'If we could ever put a dog show on NBC would you be interested?' -- and I asked this knowing that Purina couldn't buy Westminster because another dog food sponsor was already involved and had an exclusive position in Westminster.
Purina was absolutely interested and said that if NBC could put something together that they would love to be there to back it up.
So now we had the show and the sponsor. But the real key to the idea was where we would program it. So we went into our management and told them what we wanted to do and they first looked at me like I had four legs (laughing).
And I said, I want to put this dog show on and I want to put it on Thanksgiving Day, and I want to put it behind the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Dick Ebersol, who's my boss, and Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal, said, you know what, we're running It's a Wonderful Life, we're doing a low rating with that, let's try something different.
We put it on that first year, produced the show down here in Philadelphia, and the research folks who thought it might do a 1.5-2.0 rating were surprised when it did a 7.0 rating.
FanHouse: And prior to that, It's a Wonderful Life hadn't been doing particularly well in the ratings, right?
Miller: Correct. And three years before that NBC had been doing football on Thanksgiving Day. So when we walked away from the AFC package in 1998, the replacement programming they came up with was movies -- It's a Wonderful Life, Muppets movies, that kind of thing. All good family entertainment programming but clearly programming that had been around before and that was going to compete with NFL football and wasn't necessarily must-have television.
One of the other key things about this show is that (Thanksgiving weekend) is the biggest retail weekend of the year. And because retailers can't purchase advertising in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade -- because Macy's has that exclusively -- (the National Dog Show) is wide open to opportunities to everyone. From Target and Best Buy and Sears and PetSmart and so on, they are all able to come in and partner with us on the dog show.
FanHouse: So how hard was it to sell the dog show idea to management initially? Because you might think it would be easy since the only programming was basically a movie that had been around for 50 years or so.
Miller: Well, it wasn't because this was a stretch for us. It's NBC Entertainment that took it on, marketed it and sold it, but you know, next year we will be celebrating our 10th anniversary. We now have a long-term relationship/partnership with the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, and we have a long-term partnership with Purina, and my hope is my grandchildren get to watch this show with their grandchildren.
One of the funny asides is that when I go out and talk to schools and I'll ask people if they have ever seen the dog show on Thanksgiving Day, I'll have kids who will raise their hand and say, 'I've been watching that since I was four or five years old' -- these are 21-year-old kids, by the way -- 'And my parents watched it before.' But that recognition points to us having those long-term fans. And I think that you talk to people, when they think of Thanksgiving, they think of the parade, the dog show, and then football.
FanHouse: John O'Hurley along with David Frei are hosting the dog show. Did Fred Willard (in Best in Show) push you towards O'Hurley having a part in this event?
Miller: I've known John O'Hurley a long time and, you know, he kind of is the perfect host. He's got a great sense of humor, he can set David Frei up. We wanted David Frei because he's the leading expert in the dog show world. There is nobody who is better when it comes to knowing dogs and relating information about dogs than David Frei. He is the Johnny Miller/John Madden of this world. John and David are a great combination.
The National Dog Show Presented by Purina airs on Thursday, November 25 from noon-2 p.m. EST on NBC, directly following the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.