The best and worst thing about niche cable channels is that to fill 24 hours of programming, they'll run just about anything, provided it doesn't cost too much. Among such space fillers on Animal Planet is its hour-long coverage of the World's Ugliest Dog contest.
The fact that this show, airing sporadically, covers the 2006 event is mostly pointless -- an ugly dog is an ugly dog whether it's 1900 or 2525.
The World's Ugliest Dog contest is held annually in Petaluma, Calif., which is also the long-running home of the world arm-wrestling championships (an event, you may recall, that a certain good-looking dog, Snoopy, planned to attend).
Animal Planet's coverage of the 18th annual event was this close to public-access programming: They added phony cheering-crowd noise; only featured six dogs; and blew their budget on "inspirational" back stories of the doggie finalists, leaving on-the-spot reporting of the actual contest woefully thin.
But no matter -- the show offered plenty of what we tune in to see: close-up after close-up of freaky dogs. The commentator talked about the dog's "heart" but I was mostly concerned that one Italian greyhound's protruding eyeball was going to roll right out of its head right on camera.
The title in 2006 was wide open following the death of the reigning champ Sam, a dog of such unbridled gifts and public fascination that he blew open the sport: As Richard Petty was to NASCAR, so was Sam to Ugly Dog tournaments.
A newcomer to this competition, after having studied the six finalists, would have to make the following conclusions about what makes a dog a viable contender:
* Being wholly or part Chinese crested. A Chinese crested is an acquired taste, as this small spindly dog even in tip-top shape has a hairless body covered splotchy pink and black skin, and just a few strategically placed tufts of long wispy hair.
* Having a damaged eye
* Be missing enough teeth so that inches of tongue are permanently hanging out, preferably on one side
* Also helpful: lack of fur, or far too much in the wrong places; twisted or missing tail; wobbly gait; warts; and behavioral tics such as excessive drooling/foaming and making weird noises
* Having an owner willing to travel across country to display your hideousness to hooting crowds and cameras that will enshrine your moment of "triumph" in cable perpetuity