So how many viewers will tonight’s new episode of Hannah Montana bring to Disney Channel?
Bowing May 4 at 8 p.m. (ET), “The Way We Almost Weren’t” is the first fresh installment to air since the news and release of the controversial Vanity Fair pictorial of Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus created headlines worldwide, pushed stories and photo shoot links globally and generated entries all over the blogosphere.
The semi-nude picture -- Cyrus’ back is visible, while the front of her torso is covered by a bed sheet -- has certainly raised the 15-year-old's profile, something seemingly hard to do given her multiplatform ubiquity.
In addition to starring in Disney Channel’s top TV show among the 6-to-14 set, Miley/Montana has headlined a sold-out concert "Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds Concert,” which, like the series, traded off the duality of playing herself and the character that made her famous.
On the scorecards, "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Concert Tour" movie produced $65.2 million at the box office, versus $7.7 million for the U2 pic.
Cyrus/Hannah is also the model for a ton of merchandise and clothing lines for Disney Consumer Products Group.
All told, Cyrus/Hannah is said to be worth well over $1 billion to The Walt Disney Co. empire, which this weekend has her working in Orlando as part of the Disney Channel Games event. The Games fare is slated to air on the network this summer.
Taping on a fourth season of Hannah Montana is slated to begin late this summer, but that won’t occur until Cyrus debuts a new album in July.
As for tonight’s installment, the sixth original entry of the series’ third season features Brooke Shields in her recurring role as Hannah’s late mother. TV.com reports that the plotlines include Robbie, Miley and Jackson visiting a café that has special meaning for the former. However, the reminiscing doesn’t resonate with Miley and Jackson, while “Oliver and Lilly find themselves in a sticky situation.”
The original airings of the third season’s first five episodes averaged 4.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research data.
While it’s impossible to gauge just how many watchers will come to the May 4 episode -- and if the base will include more than its previous share of adults -- one could perhaps look to the example of Zoey 101, the Nickelodeon series, starring Jamie Lynn Spears. After Spears, sister to troubled pop chanteuse Britney Spears, revealed that she was pregnant to OK magazine in December, ratings for the next installments of Zoey 101 zoomed.
A one-hour movie that ended the show’s third season pulled in a series-high 7.27 million watchers on Jan. 4. Zoey 101 averaged 2.94 million viewers for its third campaign.
The two-episode, fourth-season premiere garnered 11.7 million viewers on Jan. 27. The 8 p.m.showing that night, in which Spears' s Zoey character was forced to make a decision between staying at her boarding school and flying overseas to live with her parents, drew 5.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen. The subsequent episode drew 6 million.
Nielsen's Hannah count should come tomorrow.
But for those who miss the premiere, fear not: Disney Channel has scheduled 10 encores of "The Way We Weren't" over the next month.