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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Wal-Mart Dropping Kathie Lee Gifford Clothing Line

Aired May 15, 2003 - 19:54   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A sad note now. A farewell to Kathie Lee Gifford's line of sportswear at Wal-Mart. The clothing line brought in hundreds of millions of dollars over its eight year run. But changing tastes and revelations about sweatshop labor hurt the line.
Now, I'm sure I speak for those sweatshop workers when I say to Kathie Lee, be strong little soldier. It's not as if she can't slap her name on something else now, is it?

Here to confirm my baseless speculation or debunk my baseless speculation, Gerri Willis of CNNfn.

Thanks for being with us.

GERRI WILLIS, CNNfn CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Anderson.

COOPER: So, for those who have not read this story that is out there today, what happened to her?

WILLIS: Well, New York tabloids saying today that she had been fired, that she had been booted out of Wal-Mart. And I've got to tell you, the people who represent Kathie Lee are taking, you know, some strong objections to those statements. They're saying, in fact, that she was not dumped or tossed out and that this had nothing to do with her sales.

COOPER: Yes, in fact, we've got the statement. Let's put it up on the screen. It says, "Wal-Mart by no means dumped or tossed aside Kathie Lee Gifford due to poor sales. It's well known Ms. Gifford's license deal is one of the most successful in the history of celebrity licensing deals. Any report or article indicating otherwise is irresponsible and absolutely false."

I mean this thing did make a ton of money.

WILLIS: It made a ton of money, made $700 million. You know, that's pretty big dollars for a line like this. You know, you see a lot of celebrity names on products, but you don't always see them do this kind of business. But I've got to tell you, the Wal-Mart executives themselves are saying that it's "a new era" when they're talking in the trade publications. They're saying that, you know, they want to freshen up their line, do something a little new, a little different. You know, the two of them, Kathie Lee and Wal-Mart, had an exclusive arrangement and it was coming to an end and it might have come to an end a little faster than Kathie Lee was expecting... COOPER: Well, if you ask me, Kathie Lee can be part of this new era. But that's just my personal opinion.

WILLIS: You're a fan.

COOPER: I get -- no, absolutely. Who isn't?

I guess this is really the part of the problem when a single name celebrity is, you know, is the face person and the name of everything for the product. I mean, we saw it with Rosie O'Donnell's magazine. We've seen it, you know, across-the-board, Martha Stewart, as well.

WILLIS: Well, celebrities aren't just backing products. They're just not going on air and, you know, saying buy this pair of sneakers. They are the pair of sneakers. They are the brand. And that's what we've seen with Oprah and Rosie and all of these people. They have become the brand themselves. And there's a down side for companies that stand behind them.

Think of Martha Stewart and these insider trading allegations that we've seen so much of. Her stock price has been hurt. Her sales have been hurt. And it's hard to put -- for Wall Street, for example, to predict what her stock is going to do when everything about that company is so connected to Martha herself.

COOPER: And I guess with Katie Lee the problem is when she's no longer on that daily show out there wearing the clothes and plugging away, it sort of fades from public consciousness unless the company really promotes it.

WILLIS: That's right. And Kathie Lee's people, of course, are making the point here that she has not disappeared from view, that she's actually on QVC all the time. She has other lines that she's interested in promoting, a skin care line, clothes, shoes.

COOPER: See, I told you she can be part of the new era.

WILLIS: Don't write her off. She's still there. She's still working it.

COOPER: All right, be brave, little soldier.

Gerri Willis, thanks very much.

WILLIS: Thank you.

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