As Rive Gauche Television CEO Jon Kramer succinctly puts it, “dogs don’t change, the culture changes.” A 2020 franchise extension of Dog Whisperer, which first hit the airwaves in 2004, offered an opportunity to reflect that changing culture—alongside the steadfast household pet. Enter Colleen Steckloff, a dog trainer who worked alongside Dog Whisperer’s Cesar Millan and was featured in the original series.
When it was determined that now was the time to offer audiences a revamped version of Dog Whisperer, the first question, according to Kramer, was, how do you do it? “We spent about two years going over it with all different scenarios with the producers,” he tells TV Real Weekly, adding that the project benefited from the fact that everyone involved in the original was coming back for the reboot, including the director. “We all understand what works and what the show needed to be.” The next question was, who is the Dog Whisperer? Steckloff proved to be an obvious answer. And Dog Whisperer with Colleen Steckloff was born.
“We saw that we could show on tape that she could do the things that made the [original] show successful,” says Kramer. “She could change the dog’s behavior on-screen in front of the audience. And she could help the masters understand why their behavior could be causing a behavior in the dog that they’d like to alter. So, in turn, they had to alter their behavior.”
With Steckloff at the helm, the pillars of Dog Whisperer that audiences the world over have come to know and love remain intact: “finding out the problem the family is having with the dog, determining what’s the dog’s problem, working on that and then talking to the owners about what they’re doing that might be causing that,” explains Kramer. “That’s really the fundamentals of it.”
Dog training, as it happens, is just as much—if not more—about the people who own the dogs as the dogs themselves. While Dog Whisperer isn’t Dr. Phil, there’s an element to it that can prove therapeutic to audiences, according to Kramer. “I wouldn’t have said this in 2004, but I’ll say this in 2020: the reason that people keep coming back is it’s in a sense a self-help show—through the dog for the masters, for the viewers,” he explains.
Adding to that foundation’s proven track record is a family element that Steckloff, who runs the LAK9s dog training, daycare and boarding facility with her husband, provides. “It certainly seems to be the natural time to have a female Dog Whisperer with her young family,” says Kramer. “What we clearly learned in the marketplace was that the women of the household bring the family to the show.” In addition to Steckloff’s husband Dave Aguilera, the show features their 2-year-old son, who can be seen running around with the dogs.
“There’s more of a homey, family aspect to the show,” Kramer adds. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Rive Gauche is also mindful of the benefit of reintroducing a repackaged version of a beloved brand. “Brands, brands, brands,” says Kramer when asked what’s selling best in the factual landscape. “Dog Whisperer is clearly a brand. At Rive Gauche, when we look to acquire something now, we’re really asking ourselves, can this show go three more seasons? In this kind of competitive marketplace, adding the streamers on top, it’s important, whoever you are, that you have a show that the audience has gotten used to, knows and knows to come to you to watch it. Trying to do a new show that doesn’t have that potential, it’s very hard for the viewer to find it.”
In addition to Dog Whisperer, Rive Gauche’s catalog features a slate of crime titles for which the company turns to territories and channels that have a need for the genre. Among others, it has found a solid partnership with Foxtel in Australia that enables the company to try other offshoots of the crime genre that appeal to 25- to 54-year-old women, including crime-based medical-mystery series.
“When you have those kinds of partnerships and you’ve had something work, sometimes it gives you a chance to take a show you believe in and get them to work with you to play [with] it and develop it,” says Kramer. “We have that in Germany with ProSieben. We have it in the U.K. with CBS Reality and A+E.”
Kramer adds, “When we’re out talking to our clients and we hear about genres or shows within genres they’re interested in, we’re not against going to a production partner and working with them to create a show. We did that with My Misdiagnosis [produced by Canada’s Farpoint Films]. That was very effective.”
Rive Gauche, as it’s positioned itself for the year ahead, has been selective, honing a catalog that appeals to its audience base of 25- to 54-year-old women. The strategy is quality over quantity; depth over breadth. “We don’t need to have ten shows [at a market],” says Kramer. “We want to have shows that are attractive to our clients. We’re working really hard just to bring those shows to the market.”