Q&A: Adam Bonnett
Illustration by Chris Morris
Disney Channel is in 98 million U.S. homes and distributed in 169 countries in 33 languages. Overseeing its live-action development and current series for kids 6-14 is senior vp original series Adam Bonnett, a former Nickelodeon executive who played a key role in shepherding the "Hannah Montana" franchise and is hot on the trail of the next big thing.
THR: Miranda Cosgrove recently got a multimillion-dollar contract for "iCarly" at Nickelodeon. Does such a lucrative deal change the math of kids' programming?
Adam Bonnett: Nickelodeon's deal with Miranda is just what they're paying her to star in "iCarly," versus our relationship with someone like Miley Cyrus, for example, who does so much more than just star in "Hannah Montana." So, honestly, it's apples and oranges.
THR: Who is Disney Channel's highest-paid star?
Bonnett: You're like my younger brother -- you go right for the jugular. We got a lot of stars who are doing incredibly well, but we don't discuss their individual deals.
THR: Why do most shows for children nowadays feature the same old tired plot of kids who are superior to the adults, especially their own parents?
Bonnett: A lot of the high-concept shows have kids in an extraordinary situation where the parent or adult takes a backseat, and sometimes the adult isn't as smart as the kid, or it's all about the kids putting one over on the adults. But we have a new show called "Good Luck Charlie" that has a very different kind of concept. It is very grounded, very relatable, and it's not about the parents being dumber than the kids. We try and mine as much comedy out of the parents as possible, but it doesn't mean the kids can't learn from the parents and get guidance from the parents.
THR: Is this Disney's attempt at going back to "Leave It to Beaver" and "The Brady Bunch"?
Bonnett: There's nothing wrong with those comparisons. But with "Good Luck Charlie" we do it in a very relevant and contemporary way. It's our way of bringing back the traditional multicamera family comedy.
THR: How much do you try to maintain relationships with Disney stars after they grow up? Will you be closely associated with Zac Efron when he's in his 30s, for example?
Bonnett: Of course. We stay in touch; we find opportunities. Clearly we still have a relationship with Ashley Tisdale, who played Sharpay in "High School Musical" and is now one of the stars of "Phineas and Ferb." When I'm done with you, I'm going to the set of "Sonny With a Chance," where Raven-Symone is guest-starring. She was our biggest Disney Channel star five years ago.
THR: How about your former Mouseketeer, Britney Spears?
Bonnett: She actually had a guest-starring role on a series called "The Famous Jett Jackson" around the end of 1998, right as she was really gaining popularity. But I don't know that she's the right fit with what we do now. And we have such a huge pool of our own musical artists -- Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez -- so we focus on them.
THR: You were once director of current programming at Nickelodeon. What's the one show there that you wish was at Disney?
Bonnett: Hmm. I can't think of something that makes me say, "Gee, I really love that show and I could see that fitting on our channel."
THR: What was your favorite classic kids' show?
Bonnett: I was a slave to television. It took precedent over my homework, and over spending time with my family. My family growing up was Richie, Laverne, Shirley and Jack Tripper. The show for me was "Happy Days."
THR: Do you have kids?
Bonnett: I have two nieces, and I am the coolest uncle in the world because they are 9 and 7, and I can sneak them advance copies of the shows.
THR: Your CEO, Bob Iger, said he'll use Disney Channel shows to push environmental messages. How exactly?
Bonnett: You have to be really clever. Our first goal is to entertain kids. We did an episode of "Suite Life on Deck" where Cody thought the ship was washing too many towels. In another episode, the ship was heading toward a family of humpback whales, so the kids decide to steer it in a different direction.
THR: So the kids are smarter than the adults again, right?
Bonnett: Yeah, it's a good example of kids taking over from adults. But I see it as a story of kid empowerment.
THR: Besides environmentalism, what other messages are you putting into TV shows?
Bonnett: With us, it's all about celebrating family. Believing in yourself is another theme. Like "Sonny With a Chance," about a girl who had this dream of entertaining people, and she just went for it. She moves out to Hollywood and gets to star in her own TV show.
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