You can take Travis Brorsen out of Oklahoma, but you can't take Oklahoma out of Travis Brorsen.
And it's not like he'd want you to. Brorsen " who, along with his boxer, Presley, won the CBS reality television contest "Greatest American Dog" in 2008 " is kicking off his new children's book and DVD series, "The Adventures of Travis and Presley," right here in his home state.
Brorsen and Presley will make their first elementary school appearance March 3 at Epperly Heights Elementary School in Del City " the first of many at Oklahoma elementary schools in March and April.
Brorsen, a 1997 alumnus of Perry High School, moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting after graduating from Oklahoma State University in 2001. He has appeared in such television series as "Bones," "Desperate Housewives" and "JAG." But it was "Greatest American Dog" that unexpectedly changed his path, at least for the time being.
Brorsen and Presley had made several appearances together, especially at elementary schools and especially in Oklahoma. And when Brorsen saw how children responded to Presley, he realized he and his dog could do something really powerful.
"Presley had these kids' full attention everywhere we went," Brorsen said. "I just noticed that he appeals to all people, whether they're children or adults or the elderly. I realized we could team up to help kids."
There was nothing, he realized, that specifically taught kids manners. It wasn't addressed in teachers' curricula, and, often, it wasn't something busy parents took the time to teach.
Brorsen dreamed up "The Adventures of Travis and Presley," an interactive teaching program that incorporates books, DVDs, online games and, if students are lucky, live appearances to teach manners and other life lessons.
When he took the idea to KJ Productions in Enid, he "wasn't able to spend much money because I didn't have much money," he said.
But KJ Productions jumped at the chance to work on the project.
"I believe in Travis and the good he has in his heart," said Renee Settlemires, the co-author of the first book and an executive producer at KJ Productions. "I believe in this project. I believe that if you can reach a child and hear that he says 'please' and 'thank you,' that you have done some good."
The first book and DVD were released in December, about a year after the project began.
Teachers can use an entire curriculum based on what will be a series of books and DVDs. And, unlike learning shows like "Sesame Street" or "Blue's Clues," Brorsen plans to use interactive tools like Skype and live chatting to interact with children in real time.
"The goal is not only to motivate kids, but to reward them," he said. Among those rewards? Visits to certain schools so the children can get to know Brorsen and Presley.
Oklahoma is a natural place to launch the series, he said. His entire crew was from Oklahoma: KJ Productions, Enid illustrator Curtis Tucker and theme song writer Brendan Parker of Oklahoma City.
"For us, one of the most important things is that it was all done in Oklahoma," Brorsen said. "I'm proud to be an Oklahoman."
Becky Custred, the guidance counselor at Epperly Heights Elementary School, learned about Brorsen and Presley through watching "Greatest American Dog" and reading the newspapers.
When she called to see if they would be willing to visit her school, she didn't expect them to do it for free. Or that they would bring DVDs with them as gifts.
"It's just so good that people are willing to give and to give to kids," she said. "It's just great to think that people like Travis are willing to do that."
Custred plans on incorporating the "Adventures" series into her character education programs.
Her students, she said, will connect with the dog on a level that they would with no human, and for that reason, she is very excited about the visit.
"When a dog walks through these halls, it gets their attention," she said. "After this visit, these kids will remember who Travis and Presley are."