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The Insider: Kissing Elvis

Dec 21, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Insider is no Cybill Shepherd, but she can now brag that she, too, has made out with Elvis.
Not the thin Elvis or the fat Elvis, but the four-legged Elvis who was evicted all too early from “Greatest American Dog,” the underappreciated spin CBS put on reality programming last summer.

Elvis

THE PERSONAL TOUCH The Insider gets a little face time with Elvis.

It turned out that it really is a small world after all when it was discovered that the apartment building where the Parson Russell Terrier known as Elvis lives also is home to The Insider’s goddaughters. That made a date inevitable.
So last Thursday morning was spent on the fringes of Manhattan’s Silicon Alley with Elvis and the man who dotes on him, Dr. David Best, at the loft-like office of TheDoctorsChannel.com, the doctor-to-doctor educational Web site he and Dr. Michael Banks founded four years ago.
Elvis, now sporting a less manicured look (think Brad Pitt with three days of scruff), goes to work every day and the casual, convivial office reflects that: A variety of dog beds mark his favorite spots to curl up, as do the toys in which he reportedly takes only short-term interest. There’s a small wardrobe that holds some of the attire he’s worn on special occasions.
Whimsically classy art on the walls commemorates some of those same occasions: A J. Whitsell portrait, which immediately makes one think of the famed “Blue Dog” paintings if George Rodrigue had worked in a citrusy neon palette; a pottery work by a cousin commemorating Elvis’ brush with prime-time fame on “Greatest American Dog”; and an Andy Warhol-style portrait of Elvis in his yarmulke and shawl for his Bark Mitzvah on Nov. 10, 2007, when he was 13 in dog years and the reading was about Noah and the ark.

Elvis

ALL DECKED OUT Elvis celebrates his Bark Mitzvah

It was video of the Bark Mitzvah, at which the 100 guests included Dr. Ruth and Elvis’ mother, that brought the terrier to the attention of the casting department at CBS.
Anyone who has ever listened in on the Web or on “After Dark” while “Big Brother” contestants shared their experiences will not be surprised to know that the audition process was a long one, with moments of extreme absurdity. On the first, lengthy questionnaire, Dr. Best was asked, among other things, whether he’d ever worn women’s lingerie. (Don’t you wonder what the counterpart for women was?)
There were Kuder preference tests; medical and mental and personality tests to be passed. There was an interview in New York where Elvis showed off his tricks. There were six days in near-seclusion in California, where CBS Paramount Television Network Group President Nancy Tellem and CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler shared a couch and contestants had three minutes to “sell” themselves to CBS executives on the old Carol Burnett stage. (Elvis wore his shirt collar and long blue tie).
Finally came three days’ notice that Dr. Best and Elvis were in and had to extricate themselves from work and personal life for six weeks without divulging what they were really going to do and where they would be.
For Dr. Best, it was to be his first sabbatical since he began working in his teens.
“I said, ‘I think only good will come of it,’” said the doctor-businessman who had seen enough of CBS reality staples such as “Survivor” to know the “formula.”
Things began inauspiciously. Dr. Best and Elvis lost the musical chairs competition on the first night and were sentenced to spend six nights in the large “dog house” out back of the mansion at which the contestants lived and tried to survive one more week.

Elvis

REALITY BITES Dr. David Best and Elvis compete during “Greatest American Dog.”

As any reality fan knows, being sentenced to “Exile Island” or otherwise separated from the pack is a dicey proposition: Cliques begin to form that may affect alliances and later challenges. But when some housemates began to sneak some of the comforts of the big house to the dog house, the doctor and his dog’s spirits were lifted and they decided to look on the bright side.
Dr. Best, for whom the gregarious and calm Elvis was the first dog of his life, has no complaints about how his four-footed sidekick was portrayed. Indeed, editing helped the image of some contestants: For instance, the annoying (The Insider’s word) Beth Joy, owner of the overdressed and smothered Bella Starlet (again, The Insider’s word), “cursed like a sailor” but viewers didn’t see that.
Dr. Best and Elvis learned what it was like to be thrown under the bus by a scheming opponent, but they also made some good friends with whom they’ve kept in close touch via visits and e-mails. Among them: Ron and skateboarding bulldog Tillman (that overblown little nipping thing was quickly forgotten), eventual winner Travis and young boxer Presley; Laurie and Andrew, the plucky Maltese who came sooooo close to winning; and Brandy and mini-schnauzer Beacon, whose birthday guests in January will include Dr. Best and Elvis.
Life since “Greatest American Dog” hasn’t changed much for Elvis, although he has appeared on local TV and was grand marshal of the final annual Dog Day at Shea Stadium. He does occasionally get recognized and asked for his autograph. Jan. 1, his 21st birthday in dog years, will be the occasion for another party (at the 21 Club?).
Dr. Best’s clients watched the show. The doorman in the close-knit office building watched. As did the women in the mailroom next door to DoctorsChannel, whom Elvis visits on verbal cue for treats and nuzzling.
But Dr. Best said he has not asked Elvis to do tricks for fans.
“He’s not a circus dog,” said the doctor, who uttered the most memorable and perfectly delivered exit line in reality show history when Elvis was voted out:
“Elvis has left the building.”
(Updated to correct the name of TheDoctorsChannel.com’s co-founder in fourth paragraph)

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