Figuring that kids' weekends actually start as soon as they
get out of school at the end of the week, Disney Channel is extending its weekend schedule
to Fridays this fall.
Starting Labor Day (Sept. 3), Disney will strip the same
lineup of weekend shows from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Series that will air
all three days during that block include Z Games, Flash Forward, Brotherly
Love, Bug Juice, Smart Guy, Famous Jett Jackson, So Weird,
Babysitters Club and The Jersey.
"It's an aggressive Friday strategy," Disney
Channel senior vice president of programming and production Rich Ross said. "Friday
night for most kids is one of the best opportunities we have. Friday and Saturday night
are opportunities for co-viewing by parents and kids."
Ross added that Friday nights also give Disney Channel a
forum in which to highlight its original series, such as Bug Juice and Z Games,
and its movies.
"We want to focus our original programming on the
weekend," he said.
In its most recent consumer research, Disney Channel found
that Fridays, even more so than Sundays, represented a more relaxed time when families may
just bring in pizza for dinner rather than cooking, hang out together and watch
television, according to Ross.
"This is when they have their time to watch TV,"
he added. "Families with working parents have to find their time where they
In what seems like an unusual move, Disney Channel will
also strip two kids' series that air earlier in the day, So Weird and The Jersey,
in late-night Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 p.m. to midnight.
In fact, Ross said, kids do get to stay up late on
weekends, and parents want them to be watching children-oriented programming rather than
fare like The Late Show with David Letterman.
"The luxury for [kids] is that they don't have to get
up Saturday morning," Ross said.
The Jersey --a new, original series debuting in
September -- is based on Disney Channel special The Magic Jersey.
Disney Channel, which positions itself as a network for
families -- both kids and their parents -- has almost completed its transformation to a
basic service from a premium. It now reaches 46.5 million homes on basic and 2.5 million
As part of its schedule, Disney Channel will also air
movies Fridays from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and it will continue to premiere its original
movies Saturdays from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The network is expanding its foray into reality programming
for kids this year. It has begun production of a second season of 20 episodes of Bug
Juice,a documentary on kids in summer camp, as well as ordering a second
season of Z Games. The second go-around of Bug Juice will take place in a
different camp than the first season -- in North Carolina, rather than Maine.
Bug Juice was the network's first reality series, and
"it brought real life to real kids on Disney," according to Ross.
The network has also started production on a third original
reality-based show, Circus Kids, about an international youth circus based in
Vermont that travels throughout the Northeast during its season.
Disney Channel has ordered 15 episodes of the series, which
chronicles these young circus performers, aged nine to 19, who live together in a
community, learn acts and share daily chores. Circus Kids is slated to debut next
All of the reality-based shows give Disney Channel "a
way into relevancy," Ross said, "tethering our narratives" and
"talking to kids where they live."
The network also said it has acquired 51 half-hour episodes
of The WB Television Network comedy Smart Guy, which stars Tahj Mowry. Disney
Channel licensed the show -- which will air exclusively on the cable network starting this
September -- from Buena Vista Television, another unit of The Walt Disney Co.
Disney Channel has worked with Mowry on projects in the
past, Ross said, and he noted that Smart Guy posted strong kids' ratings on The WB.
"We thought the series had really good
potential," he added.
Disney Channel started brand-strategy research in March,
and it is now completing the third and final phase of that work.