Scholastic’s Caitlin Friedman


Clifford the Big Red Dog has been beloved by children (and their parents) for over five decades. Penned by Norman Bridwell, the book series helped establish Scholastic as a preeminent children’s book publisher. PBS Kids successfully broadcast a TV adaptation from 2000 to 2003 that became a fixture on preschool schedules worldwide. Next year, the cuddly, oversized canine will be back in an all-new production from Scholastic Entertainment. Caitlin Friedman, VP and general manager of the company, tells TV Kids about the reboot.

TV KIDS: How did the new Clifford the Big Red Dog series come about?
FRIEDMAN: Clifford has continued to be a favorite character of kids and caregivers everywhere. While we haven’t been airing new shows, we have continued to hear from viewers asking if we’re going to make more episodes and if Clifford still lives on the island. Happily, we know Clifford fans are still engaged, and with the first book having been released in 1963, we also know they are multigenerational. From the engagement we see on the Clifford Facebook page, it’s clear that it has become a brand that represents kindness, loyalty and friendship. We have always thought about bringing him back, and after speaking with both PBS and Amazon about it, they saw our vision and Scholastic Entertainment is now in production on the new series.

TV KIDS: What new elements does the series incorporate?
FRIEDMAN: The essence of who Clifford is—his sweetness, his childlike behavior and his loyalty—are qualities that are absolutely still there. We decided to reimagine Emily Elizabeth—who adopted Clifford when he was a puppy—after spending a lot of time talking about how she could be brought forward to drive more of the story. She’s now a modern girl who comes up with her own adventures with her best friend, Clifford. To further build upon their friendship in the new show, Emily Elizabeth and Clifford now speak to one another. Clifford still talks to his dog friends and Emily Elizabeth still speaks to her friends and family, but they have these special moments in every episode together. We’ve also added a diverse cast of new characters that help make for a richer and more exciting world on the island; that was very important to us. In addition, each episode features an original song, which is something completely new for the show. Similar to the previous series, the new show features Clifford stories that are focused on friendship, family and adventure, but with the added layers of literacy moments and an emphasis on empathy as well as some fun imaginative play.

TV KIDS: What about the look of the new series? Is that being updated?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, the upcoming series will have a brand-new look. We are working with 100 Chickens to help us create a fresh, modern Birdwell Island. Emily Elizabeth still has blond hair, but her clothing, her expressions and the way she jumps and climbs and moves around her world is very current. Clifford looks very familiar with the addition of more facial expressions since he now talks a lot and is on a more emotional journey with Emily Elizabeth. The island itself is quirkier and brighter with an almost classic children’s book look.

TV KIDS: What are the qualities that have made Clifford such a beloved property for so long?
FRIEDMAN: Part of it is wish fulfillment. Kids engage with the brand because of how amazing it would be to have a giant dog as their friend. Just imagine having a dog who could carry you around, lift you high, open up the world to you while keeping you safe. Beyond just the fun of having a big red dog as a best friend, Clifford has always been written as accessible and relatable to a young demographic. He’s not perfect; he is always growing and learning while also trying his best and being kind to everyone.

TV KIDS: And the brand has remained prominent with the continued book-publishing line.
FRIEDMAN: Even though the show has been quiet, the Clifford publishing program has continued strongly. We just released a line of Clifford fairytales and we’re doing a refresh of the classic Clifford books. We’re also kicking off a publishing initiative in spring 2019 to support the new show with books featuring art from the series, and we’ll be launching a big book inspired by the show next fall. We are focusing on our global publishing as well, with new programs launching around the world in conjunction with the series’ international rollout.

TV KIDS: Tell us about the L&M strategy you are devising for the new production.
FRIEDMAN: We have a plan for domestic L&M and are working with 9 Story to manage our international program. The strategy has a couple of pieces to it since, as we talked about earlier, our Clifford fans are all ages. We will be looking to develop a line for girls inspired by the look and design of the new Emily Elizabeth. The designs and patterns in the style guide will be more nautical because we’re building stories around Clifford and Emily Elizabeth living on an island and all of the fun and adventures that offers. In the future, we will be developing a line for babies, as so many moms today grew up with Clifford and want to share him with their kids. We are also developing a vintage line featuring Norman’s original art targeted to adults to give them a new way to engage with their favorite big red dog.

TV KIDS: How are you mining your library for content?
FRIEDMAN: The exciting thing for us is we have lots of legacy brands. We were just going through our library and found properties from 15 and 20 years ago, one of them a series with ten books with ten stories to tell. The amount of great content and stories we have is amazing! We are also in an exciting time with so many different platforms on which to tell these stories—Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Hulu, traditional kid-focused broadcast, YouTube, feature films. And since we have and are always coming out with such great content, we can build off of things that readers have loved or recently discovered.

TV KIDS: What are your overall goals for Scholastic Entertainment in the 12 to 18 months ahead?
FRIEDMAN: Producing the new Clifford series tops our list as well as finalizing our global plan, both for new publishing and L&M. We look forward to working closely with 9 Story, which will be helping us on the animation of the new series as well as taking on the global distribution of the show and international L&M. The new Clifford live-action hybrid movie with Paramount Pictures is also a priority and we have six or seven other projects now in development at studios and broadcasters to push forward, too. And we’re always looking at what’s coming up next.

TV KIDS: In general, when you’re rebooting a classic property, how do you retain the charm of the original while still engaging with a new set of audiences?
FRIEDMAN: With Clifford, we took a step back and looked at what people originally fell in love with, which was his heart, his loyalty and his humor. There are aspects of Clifford’s personality that are core to the viewing experience, so we made sure that they were all incorporated into the new series. And we added on layers, including original music, a stronger Emily Elizabeth and a fresher world that appeals to kids. But with children, it doesn’t matter when they were born—they respond to love, friendship and family. Those core values are universal.