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‘Lassie’ back to bigscreen

Classic Media pitching script to major studios

NEW YORK — It’s 50 years since “Lassie” first began as a weekly Sunday-evening series on CBS, and Classic Media, owner of the character, is planning to put the canine back into showbiz circulation.

Classic Media is pitching a script to the major studios based on Eric Knight’s 1940 novel that started the bandwagon, “Lassie Come Home.” Script was adapted and will be directed by Charles Sturridge (“Shackleton,” “Brideshead Revisited”).

Novel spawned a hit 1943 family movie from MGM featuring Elizabeth Taylor in a small role, leading to “Son of Lassie” (1945) and other theatrical sequels. Classic Media president Bob Friedman said Sturridge will not remake the MGM movie but return to the novel, which is set in 1938 Scotland.

The goal is to shoot it, under the title “Lassie,” on location this spring for distribution to the multiplexes in 2005. The script is now making the rounds of major studios, Friedman said.

Also in the works is “Lassie’s Pet Vet,” a nonfiction syndicated TV show hosted by celebrity veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Jellison. Friedman said the half-hour weekly “Pet Vet” will function like a magazine, with segments on subjects like celebrity pets, dog fashions, pet grooming and tips on how to treat a sick animal.

Such a show will have numerous opportunities for product placement by advertisers.

Classic Media has already sold GE’s Security Technologies the rights to Lassie for a 45-second TV ad that makes its debut on NBC’s “Golden Globe Awards” Sunday.

The tongue-in-cheek GE ad, engineered by BBDO for the imagination-at-work campaign, uses CGI to turn Lassie into Karate Dog, a martial-arts hero that gives Timmy better protection than the kid ever received in the Lassie movies and the 600 TV series half-hours.

GE leaped at the chance to get Lassie as its home-security spokesanimal, Friedman said, when he presented the company with two humongous TVQ scores: 91% for people who know who Lassie is, and 81% for people who say they’d pay attention if Lassie was representing a product.

“Lassie could become the spokesdog for many other categories besides home security, making PR appearances all around the country,” Friedman said.

Classic Media has also signed with the Vancouver-based animation company Studio B Prods. (Nickelodeon’s “Yakkity Yak”) to film a “Lassie: The Early Years” cartoon that would take the collie back to her days as a pup.

Friedman said he’s already talking to the broadcast networks about slotting the Lassie cartoon series on their Saturday-morning schedules. “I want to get the widest possible distribution for this series,” including countries beyond the U.S., he said.

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