Lassie Makes The Rounds Sniffing Out Merchandising Deals

It’s the sort of junket you might imagine a politician-turning-senior-statesman might take: drop in on the editors of The New Yorker and pose with a couple of well-maned editors, read the weather on a Fox affiliate in Los Angeles, do a meet-and-greet with Ryan Seacrest on his populist radio show and, eventually, spill the beans as to what’s going on in a piece in the New York Times. It’s yet another comeback for Lassie, who first made a splash on the silver screen in “Lassie, Come Home” (1943) and was one of the first TV stars.

But this time, there are no movies or television shows — not even a limited-run series — in the works. Only plans to milk a venerable name for all its “83% brand awareness” may be worth.



“How does Hollywood teach an old dog new tricks?” Pay attention, Toto, because DreamWorks Animation, which gained control of the faded Lassie brand in 2012, has unleashed the comeback campaign to end all comeback campaigns,” wrote the Times’ Brooks Barnes over the weekend. “Initially flummoxed about what to do with a treasured but outdated symbol of Americana, the studio is now convinced that a simple collie can still resonate in a Grumpy Cat world.”

The tenth collie in the lineage — born a male, incidentally, as have all the predecessors — “stopped by ‘On Air With Ryan Seacrest’ in April, where she gave him a friendly lick and apparently informed him through barks that ‘unconditional love’ and ‘companionship’ are the best reasons to get a dog,” writes Iona Kirby for the Daily Mail in a piece yesterday that largely recounts Barnes’ story and throws in a lot of pictures. “Ryan humorously pointed out: ‘Unlike everyone else in Hollywood, Lassie is much bigger in person.’”

Said her spokesperson, Ame Van Iden, at that appearance: “Lassie is the perfect dog. She really represents the best quality in every dog. And there’s a little bit of Lassie in every dog.”

Chronicling Lassie’s appearance in the offices of The New Yorker, staff writer Sarah Larson observed in her lede Aug, 1 that the magazine and the pooch “have a long history” — although it was pointedly the first time a dog had roamed freely in the offices of editor-in-chief David Remnick, where she also drooled on the carpet, perhaps another first. That history includes Lillian Ross writing that the apolitical dog was Hollywood’s “most bankable star” back in the red-baiting days of the late ’40s. 

Among other things. Larson also make reference to cartoonist Danny Shanahan’s take on Lassie’s response to a drowning man’s plea, “Lassie! Get help!”

The “gorgeous, fluffy, self-possessed” Lassie was accompanied by “Carol Riggins and her daughter, Chelsea Riggins, her owner-trainers; Ame Van Iden, from Lassie’s public-relations team; and Jeff Hare, a DreamWorks executive,” all of whom have speaking parts in the story.

“While my peers petted Lassie and told her she was beautiful, I asked Hare what DreamWorks and Lassie were up to,” wrote Larson. “He said, ‘DreamWorks purchased Classic Media — Lassie, Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Voltron — so we now own the Lassie brand. In a couple of years, we may end up with a product line of safe dog foods and pet products. But right now we’re focusing on making her relevant. Keeping her relevant.’” 

A year ago, DreamWorks Animation seemed more inclined to commit to Lassie’s return to film, with CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg pointing out her unusually filmic bona fides to the [London] Times’ Rhys Blakely: “She’s heroic, she’s loyal, she really is man’s best friend. She’s the single most recognized pet in the world.”

But evidently, Lassie is not quite as bankable at the box office nowadays as the likes of DreamWorks’ Shrek and Kung Fu Panda. At least yet.

“Studios typically revive old characters with new movies. But DreamWorks Animation dismissed that idea, aware that Lassie’s rural escapades would have little relevance for viewers now keen on explosions, aliens and superheroes,” wrote the NYT’s Barnes, who delineates the publicity stunts, past and future, that are putting Lassie back in the public eye, including the requisite charity events expected of all celebrities today.

But away from the lights, Lassie is just another homebody. The New Yorker’s Larson asked her owner, Riggins, what a typical day is like at home. “The first thing she does is, she gets up and surveys the property,” Riggins replied. “Barka barka barka, runna runna runna.”

That’s good for inka. Inka. Inka.

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