Musicals hit right note for programmers


Nickelodeon's "Big Time Rush"
While 3D programming at home or TV shows with gaming tie-ins might be the golden geese of tomorrow, for the foreseeable future telefilms and series infused with the autotuned, musical stylings of adolescents reign supreme in the kids' programming market.

Disney set the standard with such megahits as "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical" and continues to maximize the potential of the format through shows like "Jonas," shown in 157 countries, or more recent musically tilted projects like "I'm in the Band," which airs in seven countries and counting.

With "HSM" headed into its fourth installment and a second "Camp Rock" telepic close to release (the first was seen by 145 million people in more than 160 countries), the future of musically inclined telefilms aimed at teens and tweens appears secure.

"As part of our music strategy, nearly every property has original music," says Disney's Patti McTeague, who adds that between January 2006 and September 2009 soundtracks from Disney IP helped sell more than 39 million units worldwide.

So strong is the genre that Nickelodeon, despite the disappointing showing for "Spectacular" (its answer to "HSM"), is showing no sign of backing down. Instead, Nick recently rebooted its bid to challenge Disney's musical monopoly by developing "Big Time Rush," a show centered on the day-to-day struggles of four boys trying to become a bonafide boy band.

Nick knew it needed to compete and thus spent nearly two years carefully casting "Rush" with -- as executive vp Steve Grieder puts it -- "boy band talent."

"(The) combination of comedic brilliance, true heart and real talent is what's launched the show to such huge numbers in the U.S.," adds Grieder, who is confident going into MIPTV, where "Rush" will debut internationally.

Adhering to the rule that kids know what they love and love what they know, Disney and Nick are betting that nobody has forgotten about the "Kung Fu Panda" or "Harriet the Spy" franchises. Nick, with a planned TV series of "Panda," and Disney, with a "Harriet" telepic in the works, could see hefty returns on their investments when the two projects are released either this year or in 2011.

Using similar built-in awareness logic, MarVista Entertainment hopes for a warm reception internationally when it debuts "Mandie and the Secret Tunnel" at MIP TV. "Mandie," a TV movie based on the children's book series with more than 7 million copies in print, hopes to capitalize on young viewers' appetite for telefilms.

"By no means are we trend setters or pioneers," MarVista CEO Fernando Szew says. "(But) we've seen a growth in demand (for kids' TV movies) and 'Mandie' has all the right elements for success."
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