Section: LIFE & LEISURE,  Page: D1

Date: Wednesday, February 14, 2001

NEW YORK The scalpers were out Monday at the world's most famous arena for a sport's most famous championship. You need two? Two? Who needs two? murmured the guy on the sidewalk in front.

You make money on this? No, really, do you?

Uh, uh I just have two extra tickets.

Yeah, right. He smelled cop. Who needs two? Two for the dog show?

Scalpers. At a dog show. All right, the dog show. Still ...

Thousands were already inside Madison Square Garden for the 125th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The second-oldest continuous sports event in the country (the Kentucky Derby beats it by a mere 20 months) draws more than 30,000 people over its two days, and is also one of the year's biggest shows of the year for the USA Network.

Thousands pack the floor and backstage ``benching'' area during preliminary judging, admiring the dogs and the eight rings of competition (think gymnastics). The arena is filled with a jumble of sounds familiar to the Garden at other events: a polite tennis-clap applause here, a Messier-scores-in-overtime roar there, with sustained cheering breaking out in different corners. All, however, are drowned out by girlish shrieks worthy of an 'N Sync appearance.

In between, there's a constant murmur as the crowd of experts and families watches the terriers and chow chows and havanes and komondors.

Hosted by

Joe Garagiola with analysis by David Frei, the show appeals both to fu-fu owners and the guy with the mixed Lab riding in the bed of his 4x4. More than 2.8 million people tune in for the two-day coverage. (Tuesday night's finals will be replayed from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today.) ``This is the franchise,'' Frei said of Westminster's importance to the network.

Even after eight years as host, Garagiola does not pretend to be a canine scholar. Yes, the former Major League catcher, NBC baseball announcer and Today host can tell a German shepherd from a dachshund, but he doesn't pretend to come close to Frei's level of insight.

``I haven't become an expert,'' Garagiola said. ``When (USA first) called me I said, `I don't know anything about dogs.' I just say what I would say (as a viewer) at home.''

Frei dubbed the unofficial Mayor of Westminster rarely overwhelms the home audience with the full weight of his expertise in subjects such as neck sets and lineage. Most people simply wouldn't care.

``It's really fairly simple,'' he said backstage Monday. ``Ninety-eight percent of the audience has never been to a dog show and never will be to a dog show. They want to hear stories about the breed, (or) the history of the breed.''

Westminster is

an easy mark for humor. The gin-and-tonic crowd abounds, but the masses there come from, well, the masses. Still, you can come up with enough jokes to make a movie.

And somebody did. Garagiola got blistered in last year's movie ``Best in Show,'' a satire of dog shows. Fred Willard parodied the down-home style of Garagiola who turned 75 on Monday giving the impression that the former ballplayer not only knew nothing about dogs, but didn't like them all that much.

``I'm not so ticked off at the movie, (but) I didn't think it was funny,'' he said. ``Some of the lines, I didn't go for.''

Garagiola said there are some similarities between calling a dog show and announcing baseball. In both contests, he roots for the pun is unavoidable the underdog.

The big difference: ``After the dog show, I don't have one of the dogs say, `What did you say about me?'

WRGB picks a Beau

WRGB Ch. 6 has removed the ``interim'' from Beau Duffy's title and named him news director. Duffy has been acting in the top spot since the October departure of Joe Conti. He came to WRGB in May as an assistant news director, after working at WTEN Ch. 10.

Beau Duffy is the son of the late Bill Duffy, a longtime newsman in the area, but has earned the job in his own right. Good call by WRGB.

Talking smack

After taking hits on the air from WGY (810-AM) personalities J.R. Gach and Don Weeks, WROW (590-AM) program director/morning host Paul Vandenburgh fired back last week with bits parodying Gach and Weeks.

Why anybody at WGY would be talking about the lower-rated competitor on the air makes no sense at all.

Vandenburgh has two words for his tormentors: Thank you.

WVBG back on

After a two-week technical glitch caused by a car accident, WVBG Ch. 25 went back on the air Saturday. The on-air station is an affiliate of RSN, Resort Sports Network, which shows 26 weeks of skiing, 26 weeks of golf.

Mark McGuire is the Times Union TV/radio writer. His column generally appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call him at 454-5467 or send e-mail to mmcguire@timesunion.com.