Scholastic Entertainment is debuting a brand-new Clifford the Big Red Dog TV series, based on the Norman Bridwell books. It will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on December 6 and PBS Kids on December 7. The new series is the third for Clifford, after the original Clifford the Big Red Dog, which aired on PBS from 2000 to 2003, and the spin-off Clifford’s Puppy Days, which PBS carried from 2003 to 2006.
The new series consists of 39 22-minute episodes over three seasons, each featuring two 11-minute stories, and will be doled out in two drops per season of six to seven episodes each. PBS Kids will broadcast the same set of shows starting simultaneously with the Amazon drop, with the series appearing on PBS broadcast TV channels, the PBS Kids 24/7 channel, and PBS Kids digital platforms.
The new show differs from the original in several ways, according to Caitlin Friedman, senior v-p and general manager of Scholastic Entertainment and co-executive producer on the series. “Emily Elizabeth and Clifford can speak to each other, which they never did before,” she said. “And Emily Elizabeth drives the action this time, along with Clifford. They’re in it together.”
In addition, the program has a more varied curriculum than in the past, with three prongs represented in each episode. They include imaginative play, a priority for Amazon; empathy, an important theme for PBS; and early literacy, an emphasis for Scholastic. Each episode of the show starts with the characters reading a book, map, or newspaper article, which kicks off the adventure.
The new series highlights an original song in each episode, covering all genres from blues to ballads to doo-wop. Friedman reports that focus groups of preschoolers, ranging in age from 3 1/2 to six years old, showed that while different cohorts responded to different elements of the show, “all ages were really engaged with the music.”
From Books to the Big Screen
In anticipation of the new series, Scholastic started publishing TV tie-ins last spring. It’s Pool Time was published in April and Big Red School in June. Next up is The Story of Clifford in January, followed by The Big Island Race in February. All are 8x8s. “Eight-by-eights work so well for Clifford,” said Debra Dorfman, Scholastic’s v-p and publisher, global licensing, brands, and media.
The look of the TV series is closer to the classic Bridwell artwork than the previous series, with more texture on the fur, for example. “It’s reminiscent of that whimsical art style of the original books that really lets the humor and emotions come through,” Dorfman said. “Emily Elizabeth and her friends are absolutely adorable. It’s just fun.”
Future titles will include novelty formats, including Where’s Clifford?, part of Scholastic’s new Water Wonder series, in November 2020, as well as board books and activity titles. Two to four releases per season, on average, will consist of a mix of original stories and retellings of episodes. “We like to hit certain moments,” Dorfman said. “If there’s not an episode on going to the doctor, we’ll do an original.”
Dorfman noted that the Clifford backlist still sells well, especially holiday titles. The backlist has recently been curated to 32 books, eliminating the older TV tie-ins. There are more than 130 million copies in print across the entire franchise, starting with the publication of the first book in 1963. “They’re evergreen and classic,” Dorfman said. “Parents want to share Clifford with their children.”
In 2012, for the 50th anniversary of the property, Scholastic published The Clifford Collection, a set of all of Bridwell’s classic books in paper-over-board gift editions in the original trim size. “It was so well-received and the collection continues to backlist really nicely,” Dorfman said.
More recently, last January, around the time the new TV series was announced, Scholastic reissued the first Bridwell title, Clifford the Big Red Dog, as a jacketed hardcover. There are currently 23,000 copies in print. Dorfman attributes the solid sales in part to anticipation for the new animation. “In the first place, Clifford should always be in a jacketed hardcover,” she said. “But I’m sure the announcement of the show was part of it, too.” A second jacketed hardcover reissue, Clifford Goes to Kindergarten, is coming out next July.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the library episodes of the original TV series, which has been available on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S., have also generated more interest since the announcement of the new series. Last month, the original series expanded its distribution to include the PBS Kids 24/7 channel as well as Amazon.
Meanwhile, the rebooted TV show is not the only new entertainment in the works for Clifford. A live-action feature film starring a 3D-animated Clifford is currently in post-production and set for a November 13, 2020, premiere. Two movie tie-in books are planned, including a photo-filled, 48-page retelling of the movie and, in a first for Clifford, a graphic novel. “We’ll age the publishing up a little for the movie,” Dorfman said.
All told, 10 Clifford frontlist titles are scheduled for 2019 and 2020, including both planned and already published books, encompassing six 8x8s and the Water Wonder title, all tied to the TV series, plus the two film tie-ins and the jacketed hardcover re-release. A consumer products program is also on the horizon, with the first licensees expected to be announced soon.
“Clifford hits all the touchpoints as you grow up,” Friedman said. “It provides comfort, security, and wish fulfillment. What kid doesn’t want a big red dog that takes them on adventures?”