'Wizards,' a next true star?

Gomez-led series gets a prized original telefilm on Disney Channel

Disney Channel is grooming "Wizards of Waverly Place" as its next blockbuster tween franchise in the mold of "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana."

The cable channel has picked up a third season of the hit comedy series starring Selena Gomez and has unveiled an original telefilm, "Wizards of Waverly Place The Movie," to premiere in August.

Since the cable channel discovered Gomez during an open casting call in Dallas five years ago, it placed her in three pilots before getting her on the air with "Wizards."

"We knew we wanted her as a star in the Disney Channel universe," said Gary Marsh, president of entertainment at Disney Channels Worldwide.

"Wizards," which co-stars David Henrie, Jake T. Austin, Jennifer Stone, Maria Canals-Barrera and David DeLuise and centers on the three Russo siblings who have wizard powers, ranked last month as the No. 2 scripted series across all cable and broadcast TV outlets among tweens 9-14.

Now the show is getting exposure in Disney Channel's ultimate showcase: its original-movie franchise that launched "HSM."

"This is a great example of how we can groom our stars across different genres on different platforms," Marsh said.

Set to premiere in August, the "Wizards" movie follows the Russo kids as they embark on a vacation to the Caribbean resort where their parents met.

It is shaping up to be a summer of Selena Gomez on Disney; the channel on June 26 will premiere another original movie toplined by the actress, "Princess Protection Program." Gomez stars alongside Demi Lovato in that one.

As for "Montana," which recently jumped to the big screen, talks are going on for a fourth season, Marsh said.