The Hollywood studio DreamWorks has the rights to Lassie, the TV show about a heroic collie that is the third longest running TV drama of all time (behind Gunsmoke and Law & Order). But the studio thinks the character is too old-fashioned for a new TV show or movie. So the plan is to take Lassie straight to the true goal of making movie heroes these days: merchandising.
Finding that Lassie is still beloved, she will be making appearances on TV shows, commercials, and a host of Lassie-related products.
Do you agree that Lassie, while still popular, is unable to entertain children today? That children have to have explosions and superheroes; otherwise, they will be “bored”? That’s the view expressed after the jump.
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. Instead, the studio decided that the best hope for making money from Lassie was to make her a merchandising star, and it turned to a suitably old-fashioned tactic to prepare an onslaught of products next year: the publicity stunt.
And so Lassie’s calendar this summer has been filled with coast-to-coast appearances. Vanity Fair recently agreed to do a story about Lassie’s beauty regimen. (“She’s like the Kate Middleton of animals, all poise and perfect hair,” the publication said.) The collie’s new publicists brought her to People magazine to make a video; Lassie helped select cover photos and sat patiently while accessories editors draped her with jewelry.“Unlike everyone else in Hollywood, Lassie is much bigger in person,” Ryan Seacrest told listeners when the dog stopped by his radio show.
Slick promotion is a Hollywood specialty, of course, even for hard-to-sell products (like bad films). But DreamWorks Animation has a lot riding on the furry back of this 76-year-old character. The studio, which has lost money for the last two quarters, is scrambling to expand into merchandising to make itself less dependent on volatile movie releases. Experts say that in success, Lassie could generate tens of millions in added revenue. . . .
Unsure of how best to freshen the musty franchise, the studio commissioned market research, which to its delight found that Lassie retained an 83 percent “brand awareness” among Americans; words like “loyal,” “hero” and “heartwarming” were most often associated with the character.
“We realized that Lassie has an authenticity that makes her a merchandising holy grail,” Mr. Francis said. He should know: Before joining DreamWorks Animation in 2013, Mr. Francis was in charge of marketing for Target, where he was responsible for creating Bullseye, the retailer’s white bull terrier-cum-salesdog.
There are no plans for a new Lassie movie or TV series. Mr. Francis said the brand studies convinced him that such endeavors were not needed. Filmed entertainment is also expensive, and the character would have to be updated, though perhaps not to the point of wearing a cape.
“I would love to believe that modern children would sit down and watch lovely Lassie frolic with Timmy in the meadow,” said Jeanine Basinger, a film historian. “But I fear they would get awfully bored unless she turned into a superdog that blows things up, and that would be sacrilege.”