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Matt Gallant ’86 hosts the popular TV show “The Planet’s Funniest Animals” on the Animal Planet cable channel.

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Matt is very involved in the Make a Wish Foundation and spends a lot of time working on its behalf. He is currently organizing a celebrity bowling event for the charity.

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The Planet’s Luckiest Host

By Laura Nelsonspace picturePhoto(s) by © Animal Planet; Courtesy Matthew Gallant

“I’ve got the greatest job in the world,” says Matt Gallant ’86. “I’m blessed to be doing what I’m doing.”

What he’s doing does look like fun. Matt has found fame and at least a modest amount of fortune doing what he’s dreamed of since he was an undergraduate at URI--being on television. The host of the popular TV show “The Planet’s Funniest Animals,” which airs daily on the Animal Planet cable channel, Matt is the warm and funny human presence who provides the commentary between video clips of animals jumping, falling, fighting, and generally making mayhem.

The show, which airs around the world, has made Matt a celebrity. He has his own fan club and is regularly recognized on the streets, especially by children who follow his show.

While it seems like an effortless achievement, Matt has earned his success. He worked hard over the years to find television jobs in his quest to become a sportscaster or news anchor.

Matt has had his eye on television since his undergraduate days at URI. He followed his older brother to the University in the 1980s after visiting the campus and falling in love with the school, its athletics, and its social scene. “I thought URI looked like a lot of fun,” says Matt. “I was looking for a strong athletics program because I hoped to run cross country. Because of a knee injury, I didn’t end up running cross country, but I was still involved in sports there. I was the head of the sports department at WRIU my senior year and got to broadcast the football and basketball games. I got a real education in life as well as academics at URI.” His affection for the school remains strong, as evidenced by his televised appearance in a URI jacket during the 2002 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

A communications major who also studied theater, Matt dreamed of finding a job like Matt Lauer’s. At the time Lauer was host of the local edition of “PM Magazine;” now he is co-host of the “Today” show. Matt did an internship at Channel 6 in Providence, which further whet his appetite for television. “Channel 6 was a great experience,” Matt remembers. “I was able to go out on shoots, edit footage, conduct interviews. Everyone there was kind and supportive, which stoked my desire for a job in TV.”

After graduating, Matt went to New York, where he became a page at NBC. The job, which Matt describes as “grad school in television,” gave him further exposure to the world of television as he gave tours, participated in a variety of behind-the-scenes activities, and filled audiences for shows such as “Late Night with David Letterman.”

To help him find work, Matt signed on with an agent in New York. While looking for a long-term sports casting job, Matt managed to land a number of roles in television ads and soap operas. To make ends meet, he sold sneakers at an Athlete’s Foot store and worked at a sports bar in Manhattan. Slowly, he began to penetrate the entertainment world, first doing a pilot for Nickelodeon, and then finding work on two shows on MTV: “Hangin’ with MTV,” a live show on which he served as the newscaster, and “Like We Care,” a teen program on the same channel. Matt remembers the experiences as valuable training. “It was pretty nerve wracking to read from a teleprompter at first,” notes Matt. “I look back on those shows and think how green I was.”

Both jobs came to an end when the shows were canceled after less than a year. With his MTV experience, Matt was a natural for the VJ position then open at the network, but he lost out at the last minute to a woman who would become the infamous right-wing VJ Kennedy. Shortly thereafter, he decided to move to Los Angeles, where he’s lived for the past decade.

After a period of unemployment, during which he auditioned for a variety of television jobs, including sitcoms such as “Head of the Class,” Matt began finding work. He did some reporting at ESPN and ESPN2, where he hosted several shows, including “X-Treme Energy,” which was a precursor to the “X Games.” He also worked on NBC’s “Friday Night Videos” and served as the original voice of the Warner Brothers TV channel. He continued to do commercials as well.

His big break came in the late 1990s when he auditioned for “The Planet’s Funniest Animals.” Fresh from doing “Not Just the News” on Fox TV, Matt was looking for another long-term gig. After the tryout, he wasn’t optimistic about his chances because he felt he had given a bad audition. “I wasn’t sharp—I just didn’t have my usual zip and enthusiasm that day,” he remembers. Despite his misgivings, he landed the job.

He’s been the host of “The Planet’s Funniest Animals” for five years now. “I am so thankful to have this job,” says Matt. “I work with amazing people. I am lucky to be connected to a show with such integrity and wide appeal.”

More important to Matt than his success is what he’s been able to do with it. He is very involved in the Make a Wish foundation and spends a lot of time working on its behalf. He is currently organizing a celebrity bowling event for the charity. “To be a part of Make a Wish is incredibly fulfilling,” he says. “I hear from so many kids who have benefited from the program and who tell me what a difference the show makes to them. My goal is to gain more success so I can do more philanthropically for organizations like this.” With his career clearly on an upward curve, it seems assured that Matt will be able to achieve his goal.

Comedian W. C. Fields once remarked that an actor should never work with children or animals. Matt Gallant has flagrantly broken this rule and has come out the better for it.

Laura Nelson is a public relations writer for several high-tech companies.


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