Gary Marsh, television producer
The producer puts Disney Channel stars in orbit."That's So Raven" holds the distinction of being the first Disney Channel series to reach 100 episodes, but the show started out with a different leading actress and a different title before finding its star, Raven-Symone. Disney Channel Worldwide president of entertainment Gary Marsh spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Kimberly Nordyke about the show's beginnings, the talent of its leading actress and the series' popularity overseas.
The Hollywood Reporter: Raven has expanded her entertainment stake from the lead role in "Raven" to a thriving musical career, a burgeoning licensing and merchandising business, high-profile roles in Disney Channel movies like "The Cheetah Girls" and its sequel and now to a Disney feature film deal. This seems like a model you've applied to successfully to other stars, like Hilary Duff. Is this an intentional "process" you try to apply to all your series stars? Gary Marsh: It all starts with talent and dreams and ambitions. It's less a process than part of an ongoing strategy. We're a major talent incubator for the company and a creator of franchises. It started with Hilary Duff and "Lizzie McGuire"; Raven took it a few steps further. She's the voice of an animated character, Monique, on "Kim Possible," she helped launch the soundtrack for "Cheetah Girls" and she's working with Disney on an incredible line of merchandising. I wish it were as easy as saying this is the formula and plugging (an actor) into it. But we look at the talent and see what Disney can service and make it bigger than us to become part of the (overall Walt Disney Co.) family. That's our dream: to grow talent internally and hand them off to other divisions.
THR: What impresses you about Raven as an actress?
Marsh: Raven's gift is that she is not just funny -- which she is, hysterically funny -- but the reason that she's a star is that she's fearless and creates laughs at her own expense. She will try anything to add more comedy to a gag, like a pratfall, or change her delivery 180 degrees. The true crucible for her is if she gets a laugh out of the audience. If she doesn't, she'll demand another take, knowing she can get the laugh. She never settles for "good enough."
THR: Had you followed her career from the early days of being on "The Cosby Show"? Marsh: I knew her from "The Cosby Show" and "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper," but I don't think anyone had given her the chance to showcase her talent as much as "Raven." She recognized when she took that role that she could probably make a lot more money on another series, but we gave her the opportunity to flex her comedic muscles and a level of recognition in a starring role on Disney Channel rather than playing the second daughter on a network sitcom. It's a great credit to her; she understood her career trajectory and what the role would mean for her.
THR: Do you plan to syndicate "That's So Raven"?
Marsh: There aren't any plans right now. The reality is that there's not a huge market for kids shows in syndication -- it's unlikely that Nickelodeon would buy a Disney Channel show. There is a small model that exists where we did syndicate episodes of "Lizzie McGuire" and "Even Stevens," but it's not a big business for us. At the end of the day, we prefer to keep our shows on Disney Channel because it allows them to live much longer and not get overexposed.
THR: How does the show perform on Disney Channels internationally?
Marsh: At first, there was some trepidation about how a show with an African-American lead would translate, but it's proven in many territories to be the top-rated show (on the channel). In England, it's the top-rated show on Disney Channel; in Spain it's the third; in France, it's the second-highest rated. Across the board, it's proven itself not just as a phenomenon in the U.S. We do try to tell universally appealing and relatable stories that kids and teens can connect with -- whether white, black, Chinese, Indian. The show is working remarkably well around the world.
THR: Are there plans to produce more episodes of "Raven"?
Marsh: We are out of production, and we're not likely go back into production on any more episodes. But the show will live long and hard on Disney Channel.
THR: There also is a spinoff in the works, "Cory in the House," which features Kyle Massey, who plays Raven's brother, and Rondell Sheridan, who plays her father, moving into the White House.
Marsh: It is the first time we've launched a spinoff based on one of our series. It's a great tribute to "Raven."