Disney Channel is a cable television channel specializing in television programming for children through original series and movies as well as third party programming. It is marketed to mostly children; however, in recent years the diversity of viewers has increased with an older audience, typically teenagers and young families.
Presently available on basic cable and satellite television, the network is part of Disney-ABC Cable Networks Group, a division of The Walt Disney Company. The network is based in Burbank, California, United States, and also runs a website called DisneyChannel.com. Disney Channel began broadcasting in high-definition on March 19, 2008. A high definition feed of the network is also offered on some cable providers, as well as both satellite providers and telco IPTV providers in the ABC/Disney networks preferred format of 720p.
In 1983, The Walt Disney Company announced that it would be launching a channel that would entertain families with the magic of Disney throughout the years. The Disney Channel was formed in late-1982 under the leadership of its first president Alan Wagner. The channel began broadcasting programming on April 18, 1983. At the time of its launch, Disney Channel was a premium channel and only aired 16 hours a day, from 7am to 11pm EST/PST (6am to 10pm CST, 8am to 12 midnight MST). The program that kicked off the channel's first day on the air was the Disney Channel-produced series Good Morning, Mickey! Other programs included Welcome to Pooh Corner and You and Me Kid. In April 1984, the channel extended its programming day to 18 hours a day by adding two hours to its late night schedule (7am to 1am EST/PST, 6am to 12 midnight CST, 8am to 2am MST).
The original late night schedule featured reruns of the classic The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet; more of them are included in Disney Channel Original Series. Disney Channel received a special citation from the United States president Ronald Reagan in 1984. On December 1, 1986, Disney Channel commenced full time broadcasting 24 hours everyday. During the early years, Disney Channel aired several foreign animated series and movies including Asterix, The Raccoons, and Paddington Bear. The Australian western, Five Mile Creek, was shown during this time period also.
During the 1980s, the channel debuted a few programs that later became part of the cultural lexicon of sorts. Early on, in 1986, the musically-oriented sitcom Kids Incorporated became a hit, about a pre-teen (and later teen-to-young adult) gang of friends who formed a pop group, mixing their everyday situations with variety-show and music video style performances. During its nine year run, the series spawned many future stars in both music and acting, including Martika (who went by her real name of Marta Marrero in the show's first season), eventual Party of Five co-stars Scott Wolf and Jennifer Love Hewitt (billed as Love Hewitt), and Stacy Ferguson (Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas).
Disney also hit a cord with viewers in the early 90's with the popular after school block of cartoons called "Disney Afternoon". Making spin off shows of popular Disney movies, classic Disney characters and originals including Care Bears, the Gummi Bears, Duck Tales, Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop, Bonkers, Gargoyles, Aladdin the Series, and Timon & Pumba the Series. The cassette tapes and CD's of the music from the original shows from the "Disney Afternoon" block are still treasured by viewers.
In early 1989, The Disney Channel revived one of the company's early TV staples with The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, which was an immediate hit, and proved the basic Disney variety show formula could still work, unlike in the short-lived 1970s revival. The latest version contained many of the classic elements, from "theme days" to updated mouseketeer jackets, but the scripted and musical segments were more contemporary. MMC had a stellar young cast, launching the careers of Christina Aguilera, JC Chasez, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Keri Russell and others. By 1995, Disney Channel was seen in more than 8 million homes across the United States.
In 1997 (but in some markets starting around 1994), Disney Channel began transitioning from a premium cable channel to being offered via expanded basic cable, officially doing so by 2000 (or 2004 in some markets). It was at this time that Disney Channel started to gain viewers. Prior to 1997, Disney Channel would air week-long previews four times a year, as well as two free preview weekends periodically (with ads targeted to non-subscribers), in the same manner that HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and Starz have.
In 1997, Disney Channel took on a revamped look and dropped the word "The" in the network's name (However, promos often referred to the channel as simply "Disney" and the logo often omitted the "Channel" in the network's name also), and split the network into three programming blocks: Playhouse Disney, comprising of shows aimed at preschoolers; Vault Disney, featuring classic Disney material such as Zorro, The Mickey Mouse Club, the Walt Disney anthology television series, older television specials and features such as The Love Bug; and the most distinct one, running from afternoon to late evening for teenagers, called Zoog Disney, which used anthropomorphic characters called "Zoogs", who resembled robots (but the Zoog characters were given human voices) as its hosts. The Zoog Disney block was introduced in 1998 after Toon Disney launched. From September 2001 to August 2002, the entire weekend lineup (except for the Vault Disney and Playhouse Disney lineups) was branded as "Zoog Weekendz".
The Zoogs original look was one-dimensional, however, the Zoogs were redesigned in 2001, with a more three-dimensional design and mature voices, but were phased out after less than a year. A new channel logo (which featured a 1930s-era Mickey Mouse on a black Mickey ear-shaped TV), was also introduced in 1997. The channel also began to carry break interruptions (not advertising commercials, but promos for network programming).
Disney Channel's original programming during this period began to skyrocket. First, with Flash Forward in 1997 and then continuing with shows like The Famous Jett Jackson, So Weird, Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens and Kim Possible, among others.
In September 2002, Disney Channel was gradually remodeled once more. First, the "Zoog" brand name was phased out from on-air usage; the "Zoog" name continued under a separate website until 2003, when it was merged with Disney Channel's main website. Then on September 9, 2002, the vintage material aired under the Vault Disney banner was discontinued (primarily to contribute to the network's new "hip" image) in favor of same-day repeats of the channel's original programming and off-network series. As a result, primetime movies were also cut to one a night (from two). The channel also ceased producing drama and reality series, shifting focus to live-action comedies and animated series, and Disney Channel usually premieres about two or three new original series a year (typically two animated series and one live-action series). The current logo was implemented a month later. As a result of these changes, of the three blocks introduced in 1997, only Playhouse Disney continues to this day.
Anne Sweeney, a veteran cable executive, took control of Disney-ABC Television Group in 2004 and successfully remade Disney Channel into "the major profit driver in the company." By 2008, Condé Nast Portfolio was able to note that the Channel "has been adding a million viewers a month—every month—for the last five years," and also called the Channel "the greatest teen-star incubator since the NBA stopped drafting high schoolers." Sweeney's successful strategy was to discover, nurture, and aggressively cross-promote teen music stars whose style and image were carefully targeted to pre-teens and teenagers.
While Disney Channel's intended target audience are preschoolers, pre-teens and young adolescents, the channel has gained popularity and also has viewers outside the main target audience and has even made teen idols out of some of the channel's stars. The channel has become well known in recent years for its Disney Channel Original Series, and because of them, Disney Channel is one of the most-watched cable channels in the United States, with some series averaging around four to six million viewers (which is considered impressive for cable television).
In 2003 Disney Channel released its first ever musical movie on Disney Channel entitled The Cheetah Girls. It received 84 million viewers worldwide. Later in Disney Channel years spin-offs of the Cheetah Girls were created such as High School Musical, and Hannah Montana. In 2005, That's So Raven became the network's highest-rated series since the network's move to basic cable; as well as being the first Disney Channel Original Series to beat the 65 episode limit (eventually hitting 100 episodes) and to be the first to spawn a spin-off (Cory in the House).
In 2007, Disney Channel remodeled its looks. The logo, instead of bouncing around the screen, turned into a ribbon and swirled around the screen until forming the logo. The background turned into an astronomy sphere, as opposed to abstract objects bouncing and moving in the screen. Also, the font was updated from Digital to Pilsen Plakat Bold. Bumpers were updated as well. Instead of the logo popping up and delivering a message, the ribbon swirled up, formed the logo, and another ribbon swirled out with the message. In addition, the female announcer was dropped.
That year, Disney Channel also cut down on the number of original movie and series premieres over the course of the calendar year, limiting to four DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) and two new DCOS (Disney Channel Original Series). The most successful DCOM was High School Musical 2 with 17.2 million viewers. The channel abandoned its uniform schedules for weekday and weekend afternoons (with the exception of the 7-8PM hour), to run a five-hour (later six-hour, now back to five-hour) schedule featuring hour-long blocks of various original series (and the off-network programming that remained on the channel) with the schedule changing each day. As part of the change, promo cards and bumpers were changed to an abstract atmosphere with ribbon theming and themed to the programs.
Promos for the next program now only displayed the program airing next and were moved from immediately after the conclusion of a program to near the end of the last promo break, while a ribbon banner now appears on the bottom of the screen during programming (those airing from 11AM-8PM/ET and airing immediately following the end of each promo break) telling viewers the current program and the two programs airing afterwards. Slightly modified versions of these graphics fit for high definition were introduced in September 2008. The channel also moved its original series (mostly the live-action series) to primetime on weekends with new episodes airing in those timeslots, after having aired new episodes of its series on Fridays between 6-8PM/ET for the previous few years. The series began airing from 8-9PM/ET on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (The Friday 8-9PM block will be preempted if a Disney Channel Original Movie is scheduled to premiere on that night; the Saturday 8-9PM block has aired on a periodic basis since the change; and the Sunday 8-9PM block was added in January 2008). In July 2009, Disney Channel extended its Friday lineup to two hours in primetime from 8-10PM/ET, dropping the primetime 9PM movie and a double movie feature was added on Saturday nights.
2007 saw the debut of two new original series, the That's So Raven spinoff Cory in the House which ended after two seasons (a possible casualty of the 2007 Writer's Guild strike, which caused freshman or sophomore series whose production was interrupted midway through the season to eventually be cancelled), and the popular Wizards of Waverly Place, starring Selena Gomez, David Henrie and Jake T. Austin. 2008 is recognized for its new series such as Phineas and Ferb, Brian O'Brian, and The Suite Life on Deck, the spin-off to The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, plus new Disney Channel Original Movies such as Camp Rock , Minutemen and The Cheetah Girls: One World. The Suite Life on Deck was the number one series in the respective categories in kids ages 6–12 and tweens ages 9–14 in 2008.
In 2009, Disney Channel launched two new series: Sonny with a Chance (the first original series shot in high definition) starring Demi Lovato in February, and JONAS starring the Jonas Brothers in May. New movies in 2009 included: Dadnapped, Hatching Pete, Princess Protection Program, and Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie. The four original movies for 2009 had the widest range of Disney Channel Stars in the networks history. Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie also became the highest-rated cable program of that year (not including sporting events) with 11.4 million viewers, becoming the second highest-rated DCOM in history. The premiere of the crossover special Wizards on Deck with Hannah Montana (involving Wizards of Waverly Place, The Suite Life on Deck and Hannah Montana) also beat out its competition (both cable and broadcast network programming) on the night of its premiere with 9.1 million viewers (making it the highest-rated episodes of Wizards and On Deck to date).
In late October 2009, Disney Channel premiered a new short series called: "have a laugh!"  These 4 to 5 minute segments would include re-dubbed versions of classic Disney Cartoons. The first of which premiered on October 26, 2009: Lonesome Ghosts.
Disney Channel mostly airs original sitcoms geared toward teenage girls and sometimes airs its original cartoons geared more towards upper-elementary and middle school age children. However, as of 2010 the only original animated series it airs in first-run form is Phineas and Ferb (though since February 2009, the episodes originally air on Disney XD before airing on Disney Channel). Disney Channel also has a programming block that airs in the daytime geared toward pre-schoolers called Playhouse Disney, which airs daily from 7:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m./ET. During the summer, Playhouse Disney ends at 10:00 a.m./ET on weekdays and at 11:00 a.m. As of 2010[update], the only programming featuring classic Disney characters is Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the Playhouse Disney block. Despite the other programming, a majority of the channel's broadcast day is taken up by teen sitcoms.
Series produced by Walt Disney Television or production companies unrelated to the Walt Disney Company used to make up most of the schedule; nowadays, with the explosion of Disney Channel Original Series, these series have almost completely been dropped from the channel. As of January 2010[update], the only non-original productions airing on Disney Channel (not including the Playhouse Disney lineup, movies, and short series Minuscule and Shaun the Sheep) are The Little Mermaid and Recess.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Disney Channel aired special shows that featured classic Disney cartoons (that were largely made when Walt Disney was still alive). They were for the most part removed from the lineup in 2000, however their presence has returned as of 2009 with the addition of the short series have a laugh!. On December 14, 2008, it was announced that Disney Channel in the U.S. would bring back the animated block, which aired from 12-6 a.m./ET. The animated block was added to Disney Channel during the late night hours after Christmas Day 2008.
Much of Disney Channel's programming seems to appeal to teenage girls with shows like Hannah Montana and JONAS. Disney Channel has aired some programming more appealing to teenage boys with Aaron Stone and other such Disney XD shows in 2009. New programs are expected to premiere on Disney Channel in 2010, with the debuts of the family sitcom Good Luck Charlie and the animated series Fish Hooks.
Disney Channel's live-action series usually have no more than six contract cast members, and have between 6 to 8 credited staff writers (fewer than the typical 8 to 11). Its multi-camera sitcoms, which use the classic studio audience/laugh track format, are shot on videotape (note that these shows have Video Control Operators, Video Tape Operators and Technical Directors listed in the closing credits) and use some type of simulated film look. Former series That's So Raven, Cory in the House, and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody; and current series Hannah Montana use the FilmLook image processing. Sonny with a Chance, Wizards of Waverly Place, and The Suite Life on Deck use a 'filmized' appearance, but are also shot on videotape, which is becoming standard on Disney Channel's multi-camera sitcoms as the channel transitions to producing its original programming in high definition.
The first official Disney Channel Original Series was also its first original comedy series Flash Forward, which debuted in 1997 (and was a co-production with Canada's Family cable channel). The sci-fi drama So Weird (which some critics likened to a teen version ofThe X-Files) and the sports comedy The Jersey debuted in 1999. 2000 saw the debut of the teen medical drama In a Heartbeat (the channel's shortest-lived live-action series), but the most successful of the shows that year was the sitcom Even Stevens. In 2001, Lizzie McGuire debuted, becoming the channel's most-watched series (and star Hilary Duff's success resulting from the show would open the door for today's generation of Disney stars, like Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers).
That's So Raven (starring Raven-Symoné) debuted in 2003, becoming the channel's highest-rated original series of all time prior to Hannah Montana's debut; and was the channel's first series to last more than the standard quota of 65 episodes, the first Disney series to last 100 episodes, and the first series to create a spin-off with the less-successful Cory in the House in 2007. The campy sci-fi comedy Phil of the Future debuted in 2004, and was controversially cancelled in 2006. 2005 saw the debut of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, which later spun-off The Suite Life on Deck in 2008, which has become equally popular as its parent series, becoming the #1 live-action series for kids 6–11 and tweens 9–14 in 2008. Hannah Montana premiered in March 2006, and quickly became the channel's banner show and made its star Miley Cyrus a household name. In 2007, Wizards of Waverly Place premiered and proved successful.
In 2009, the channel debuted two new sitcoms, both of which are the channel's first starring vehicle series. In February 2009, Sonny with a Chance premiered starring Demi Lovato, star of the 2008 Disney Channel Original Movie Camp Rock. JONAS, the channel's first single-camera comedy since Phil of the Future, starring The Jonas Brothers debuted in May 2009.
In 1998, the channel debuted its first documentary series Bug Juice, which centered on a group of kids attending summer camp. 1999 featured the debut of the interactive series Z Games, in which viewers would submit their own homemade games. 2000 saw the debut of the documentary series Totally Circus (which would be followed up the next year with the basketball documentary series Totally Hoops and in 2002 with Totally in Tune, the last reality program on Disney Channel). Since then, reality programming on Disney Channel has been relegated to short series, such as Jonas Brothers: Living the Dream, High School Musical: The Music in You, and Camp Rock: Down Under.
Playhouse Disney's first hit series was Bear in the Big Blue House which debuted in 1997. This was followed in 1998 with the computer-animated Rolie Polie Olie'. Other popular Playhouse Disney series of the past and present include: Little Einsteins, Out of the Box, PB&J Otter, Stanley, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Imagination Movers, Special Agent Oso, and Jungle Junction.
Main article: Disney Channel Summer Events
Disney Channel's new summer programming block, Summer of Stars, has began Saturday, May 30 2009 and lasted until the end of August 2009. Previous blocks have been Totally Rockin' Summer! (May 17, 2008 – September 7, 2008), Summer! (May 24, 2007 – September 8, 2007) and So Hot Summer! (June 1, 2006 – August 31, 2006), Summer 2005! (June 10, 2005 – August 28, 2005) and Raven's Psychic Summer (June 7, 2004 – August 27, 2004).
Main article: Disney Channel's Hauntober Fest
Every night during October, Disney Channel has had Halloween Events. There were many new Halloween films introduced in 2006 such as Twitches and The Scream Team and many others and more recently Twitches Too and Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie.
Main article: Disney Channel's New Year Events
Disney Channel Stars host New Year events every New Year's Eve followed by a Series Marathon on New Year's Day. The next New Year Block is unknown.
Main article: Disney Channel Games
Debuting in 2006, the Disney Channel Games includes stars from Disney Channel Original Series and Movies. After the kick-off Games in 2006, the 2007 and 2008 Games included stars from across the world, making room for the addition of a Yellow Team (Added to Blue, Red and Green) during the 2007 event. In 2008, the games featured 4 teams: Cyclones, Comets, Lightning and the Inferno. 2008 was the last DC-Games to date. No future games have been planned or scheduled for 2010.
Disney Channel has come under strong criticism ever since the network switched its broadcast from premium, more limited cable to more basic, widespread cable. Experts criticize the company for programming that has pulled away from the characters that the networks parent company, The Walt Disney Company was based on: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. Other critics disapprove of the marketing strategy made by Anne Sweeney, the President of ABC-Disney Television Group, which makes the programs on Disney Channel geared mainly toward pre-teens and teenage girls.
The channel has also come under criticism in the past from fans of shows such as Boy Meets World, Sister, Sister and other live-action shows that were aired on Disney Channel in an off-network syndication format, for editing and sometimes removing episodes of its syndicated reruns for suggestive content, though this is no longer a situation as Disney Channel had limited syndicated reruns to animated series. The channel has also been criticized in the past for ending its original series after a 65-episode run with Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens as prime examples; though starting with That's So Raven's extension past 65 episodes, Disney Channel has begun to allow most of its series to run between 80-100 episodes (however, while this is enough episodes to support syndication runs for several of its recent series, FCC rules regarding educational content have hampered the possibility of Disney Channel's shows being carried in off-network syndication in the U.S. outside of cable).
Main article: List of Disney Channel Original Movies
A film is broadcast almost every night, but not necessarily a theatrically released feature film. Disney Channel airs new original films, called Disney Channel Original Movies (or DCOMs), about 4 to 6 times a year, and those are frequently broadcast during that timeslot. In 2000, Disney Channel claimed to produce a new movie each month; this only lasted throughout that same year. Disney Channel began producing its Original Movies in 1997 with the premiere of Northern Lights. The amount of DCOMs per year began to increase -— from two in 1997 to three in 1998 to a high of twelve in 2000.
High School Musical 2 is the most successful DCOM in popularity and awards, setting a cable record for most viewers of a basic cable program, when its debut scored 17.2 million, a record that stood until the December 3 Monday Night Football matchup between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens on corporate sibling ESPN surpassed it with 17.5 million viewers (it still remains the most watched made-for-TV movie in cable television history). The Cheetah Girls films are also notably successful, with huge merchandise, sold out concert tours and soundtrack sales. The first film was the first TV movie musical in Disney Channel history. It saw over 84 million viewers worldwide. The second movie was the most successful of the series bringing in 17.2 million viewers in the U.S. It scored an 86 date concert tour, and was on the top 10 tours of 2006, the tour broke a record at the Houston Rodeo that was set by Elvis Presley back in 1973. The concert sold out with 73,500 tickets sold in three minutes.
The channel will occasionally secure the rights to air a picture released by a non-Disney studio, most notably Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, NBC Universal's Beethoven, The Weinstein Company's Hoodwinked and The Magic Roundabout, Sony Pictures' Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2, Lionsgate's Happily N'ever After, 20th Century Fox's Catch That Kid and Paramount's Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown. Also, another non-Disney Christmas themed film, such asThe Polar Express have aired. Other non-Disney films over the years have included Little Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Another Cinderella Story, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown and Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird just to name a few.
Between 1986 and 1998, films made up most Disney Channel's evening and overnight schedule. It now only airs usually around 12 hours of movies per week, occasionally 14 or 15. Many of the channel's earliest original movies (particularly those made from 1997 to 2002) have seldom been aired by Disney Channel in recent years, except for some holiday-themed movies. This changed in January 2009 when the channel began airing these early original movies in late night on Fridays and Saturdays. A Disney Channel Original Movie used to air twice in a row on the night of its Friday night premiere; this tradition ended with the January 2006 premiere of High School Musical. Encore presentations of Disney Channel Original Movies however, still air on the channel in primetime on the Saturday and Sunday after its original Friday night debut (Camp Rock, Dadnapped, StarStruck and Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars are the only exceptions to this rule). Camp Rock and Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior are currently the only DCOMs to air on a non-Disney Channel branded network domestically as they have both on sister channel ABC Family.
Most films airing on Disney Channel run short of their alotted time slot, and because of this, Disney Channel airs filler programming following the film: If the movie lasts 1:25 to 1:35, an Original Series will air (Disney used to air syndicated series that aired on the channel), if it lasts 1:40 to 1:45, an 11-minute episode of the Original Animated Series Phineas and Ferb will air or if it lasts 1:50 to 1:55, either a music video will air along with a Disney Channel promos music video, or an episode of a Disney Channel Short Series such as Shaun the Sheep, As the Bell Rings or Brian O' Brian.