TV Upfront

Disney Upfront Report: Movie Musicals, 'Tron' and Crowds of Shrieking Children

Disney Junior Takes Over for SoapNet Next Week

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Disney Channel pitched its new programming to advertisers at its upfront last night, including a rap-influenced TV movie entirely in rhyme and an "'ER' for the pre-school" set on its new Disney Junior channel.

But its pitch at The Hard Rock Cafe in Manhattan could easily have been mistaken for a kid's birthday party on a massive scale. Shrieks and shrills overpowered much of the marketing presentation, as the kids of ad execs encountered Disney Channel talent such as "Jessie" star Debby Ryan, posed for pictures with Captain Hook and danced with Hip-Hop Mickey.

Dancing with Mickey at Disney Channel's upfront
Dancing with Mickey at Disney Channel's upfront
The tween set also swayed to performances from Tyrel Jackson Williams and Coco Jones, stars of Disney's upcoming TV movie "Let it Shine," and "A.N.T. Farm" star China Anne McClain and her two sisters.

Disney Channel had reason to celebrate, even beyond ginning up enthusiasm for its lineup: It unseated Nickelodeon among 6-to-11-year-olds for the first time last year, as President and Chief Creative Officer Gary Marsh reminded the crowd. The network also broke another record in February, tying Nick for first among children 2 to 11.

"We are finding fresh ways to tell familiar stories," Mr. Marsh said. "It's new and fresh but still Disney to the core."

Disney Channel's new programming for its three networks, which it announced before last night, includes two new cartoons on its namesake channel, "Water Over Yonder" and "Gravity Falls," which Mr. Marsh said will make great compliments to "Phineas and Ferb."

Mr. Marsh highlighted the success Disney has seen in music-driven programming. To that end, "Let it Shine" will premiere on June 15. Written completely in rhyme, the TV movie is influenced by rap and hip-hop.

Knowing advertisers are hungry for another runaway success such as "High School Musical," Disney Channel is also currently in production for a beach-themed TV movie, "Teen Beach Musical," which will air in summer 2013.

The company's third and newest channel, Disney Junior, replaces SoapNet on cable grids on March 23 as Disney goes after the younger set traditionally dominated by Nickelodeon.

"This will be a real game-changer," Mr. Marsh said. "No channel has the heart, humanity and soul of what Disney can offer."

"Sofia the First" and "Doc McStuffins," the program Mr. Marsh described as "'ER' for the pre-school" set, will be among the first shows on the network.

And next month Disney XD will introduce "Ultimate Spiderman" and "Tron Uprising," featuring voice acting by Elijah Wood, Mandy Moore and Bruce Boxleitner, who appeared in both "Tron" movies.

Disney wants to capitalize on its recent momentum. "With the success that we had I'm pushing our team further and further to take on bigger risks," Mr. Marsh said.

These risks will manifest as even bigger experiments further down the road, with Mr. Marsh teasing the kids with titles like "Zombies & Cheerleaders," "Dog With a Blog" and "Crash and Bernstein" that could appear at next year's presentation.

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