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High School Musical and Hannah Montana - The shows that changed Disney Channel forever

Jubenhimer

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Nov 11, 2018
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In the late 90s, Disney Channel found a niche audience among the major kids channels by catering to the underserved 9 to 14 year old audience. A vague, late elementary/middle school audience that was starting to watch channels like MTV, but weren't ready to abandon the whimsy of kids programing just yet. The Channel's Zoog Disney block offered off-beat fare for these young viewers such as So Weird, In A Heartbeat, The Famous Jett Jackson, and Even Stevens. Shows that while fit the family-oriented mandate of Disney Channel, carried plots, themes, and stories that can appeal to an older audience.

By 2003 however, Disney Channel had already been undergoing a number of changes. Zoog Disney and Vault Disney were gone, and the channel struggled to try and appeal to the broader 6-14 year old audience with cartoons such as Dave the Barbarian and American Dragon. On top of that, Disney began facing stiff competition from networks such as MTV, Nickelodeon's TEENick block, The N, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, even Disney's newly acquired ABC Family, all of which offered edgier, more contemporary programing for young teens.

Disney Channel decided that it needed to more narrowly define itself. Looking at its most popular shows and original movies at the time such as Lizzie McGuire, Kim Possible, That's So Raven, and The Cheetah Girls, the network concluded that most of its core viewers were between the ages of 8 and 12, an age group was christened with the name "tweens" by marketers. Essentially, these were kids who wanted stories about teenagers, without any of the angst, drama, or other unpleasant realities of middle/high school life (think Saved by the Bell). So Disney got to work with a new approach to its content. The channel stopped licensing third party music videos by the mid-2000s, and instead popularized a new approach. Cast musically inclined young women in teenage roles, then sign them to one of its sister record labels to cross promote with CDs, clothing lines, and toys. The still-running Lizzie McGuire was the first real guinea pig for this newer, more commercialized strategy and it helped make the show even more popular than it already was. So Disney being Disney, they went ahead and began milking this cash cow as much as it could. This led to 2006, where Disney Channel's two most popular properties were born.


The First, was Hannah Montana. A sitcom staring Miley Cyrus, real life daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus as Miley Stewart, a Junior High School girl with a big secret, she's actually the super-popular pop star Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana was a fantasy for younger girls, and it dethroned the aging Lizzie McGuire as Disney Channel's signature series. It's brightly lit sets, laugh-track filled humor, and over-the-top acting made it a hit with kids, and spawned countless seasons, dolls, CDs, and other paraphernalia. Disney followed up this one-two punch with its most successful original movie franchise of arguably all time. High School Musical.


A movie trilogy about a group of teens auditioning for a high school play presented perhaps the most sugary, idealistic, and magical vision of high school ever. A magical place where teenagers sing wonky auto-tuned pop songs about their feelings, and themes like drugs, and sex are non-existent. That didn't stop children from eating it up though, becoming the most watched broadcast among kids 6-11, and the films even gained a cult following among actual teens thanks to their campy tone and admittedly catchy music. HSM was so popular that production of the third film was handed to Disney's main movie division for a theatrical release, resulting in an increased budget and higher production values.

High School Musical and Hannah Montana are two shows that changed Disney Channel's reputation, for better or worse, in the eyes of the public. Nearly every series following, had the same premise of teenagers becoming famous, with the actors being signed to Disney Records to record pop songs for Radio Disney. No longer was DC some quirky network for young teens and families, now it was a franchising powerhouse among kids and the "tweens", where Teenagers sing and dance, and spout cheesy one-liners to an audience of canned laughter. These may not be the best pieces of entertainment, but they helped give Disney Channel a bit more of an identity beyond some vague Nickelodeon/MTV hybrid.
 
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Jethalal

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Drake and Josh. Best Teen show ever. FTW! Only one I can still watch and has aged well.


 
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Jethalal

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I dont consume media.

And I don't consume media which is aimed at kids and features kids. To me, it's proper creepy and no different than the weirdos that are in to those Japanese cartoons of kids.

But, each to their own, I'm not iudging
Even I watched them when I was young. I can't bother watching these anymore except D&J mainly due to nostalgia and I am not that old too, probably one of the younger users here.

What do you even do all day if you don't mind me asking. No games, TV, book, show, music would bore me the hell out.
 
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