These are not the happiest times at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, with the unceremonious suspension of anchor Brian Williams casting a dark shadow.
Can NBC’s damaged reputation be rehabilitated, and viewers’ affections reawoken, by the four soft paws of a puppy called Wrangler?
The golden Labrador has just completed his first month on the Today show, where he was introduced as a 10-week old in the middle of January.
Now he is one of the most famous animals on TV, with more than 30,000 Twitter followers.
His first month on the show was celebrated on Wednesday, with Matt Lauer recounting the pup’s momentous first month on the job.
Wrangler’s had quite the month: He arrived, in grand fashion, on a red carpet, to a battalion of hosts holding snacks in their hands. Just so we wouldn’t think we were being seduced like fools by the blatancy of a cute puppy, NBC has declared Wrangler a “puppy with purpose”—he is going to be trained, over an 18-month period, to become a guide dog for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
“At the end of 18 months, the puppy will begin formal guide dog training with a professional instructor and will be matched with a person who is blind or visually impaired, providing life-changing independence,” said a statement from Today.
“He scampered into our lives, and then our hearts,” said Lauer on Wednesday, as images of Wrangler being too darned cute played over and over. According to Michelle Brier, spokeswoman for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Wrangler is on set Monday to Friday, for the whole 7 to 11 a.m. span of the show, which is longer than anyone else—watch out, Matt and Savannah.
“He loves all of the talent and staff—particularly the ones who visit him often in his Orange Room home,” said Brier, declining to clarify if Wrangler had his anchor favorites, although he makes them look very nice indeed (cunning NBC, cunning).
“Supermodel Chrissy Teigen officially admitted to be dating Wrangler—and noted that he may be a better kisser than John Legend,” Brier added. “He seems unfazed by his many adoring fans. Whether it’s hanging with Gronk, Anne Hathaway, or Naomi Campbell, he seems to take it all in stride.” There are lots of adorable Wrangler videos here.
More than 80,000 people helped choose his name, announced rapturously by Carson Daly. Hathaway cuddled him, Tiegen lay down with him, and Wrangler and his “puppy raiser” Saxon Eastman even appeared in Today’s Super Bowl ad.
My favorite Eastman observation has been that Wrangler is “very food-motivated” when learning new skills, although Wrangler’s abundant sleeping has puzzled viewers, leading Savannah Guthrie to ask if it was normal.
Eastman said it was, and to be honest Wrangler has what seems the perfect working environment: a group of totally besotted Today staff, cooing celebs, treats and toys, and public adoration.
He attends classes every week alongside other puppies his age learning the same skills (I bet they’re crazy jealous) and even has an intriguing-sounding “regional manager” to discuss—bark?—any problems he is having.
Away from the set Wrangler lives in Westchester with Eastman. Brier said Today had initially approached Guiding Eyes for the Blind “looking to make a difference in someone’s life through raising a Guiding Eyes puppy, and we’re thrilled about the partnership.”
The organization selected Wrangler for his starring role. “Wrangler was purpose-bred to have the superior health and temperament of a guide dog. He’s highly trainable, confident, and adaptable. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
Until this week his province has been a large orange-colored pen next to Today’s Internet-related “Orange Room.” Then on Wednesday, Eastman told us Wrangler had a new home—a crate. While crates can look ugly, and imprisoning, the pimped-up Today show crate for Wrangler is something we’d all like to curl up in, brightly colored, with a cushion and toys. Naturally there is a crate camera, and Eastman assured us Wrangler would feel rested and calm in there.
It seems a win-win: Wrangler’s presence gives the “Today family,” as its anchors call it, a cuddly pet, while Wrangler himself, said Brier, “has helped to drive significant awareness to the important role of guide and service dogs—and it will continue to do so in the coming year. We’re so excited about that.”
Guiding Eyes matches approximately 150 guide dogs with people with vision loss each year. “We also provide follow-up services and support to 1,000 active guide dog teams,” said Brier. “With the aging baby boomer population, blindness statistics will continue to rise in the U.S. over the coming years.”
Wrangler, said Brier, will begin formal training with a professional guide dog instructor next spring. If all goes well, he’ll be matched as a guide dog with a person with vision loss toward the end of 2016.
Which means a lot more cute and “awww” on the Today show, with NBC no doubt determined to make the most of this very cuddly secret weapon in the ratings wars.