'High School' upstages TV records

By Nellie Andreeva
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"High School Musical"

Disney Channel's highly anticipated "High School Musical 2" sang and danced its way to history Friday night when 17.24 million viewers tuned in, making the original movie's debut the most-watched basic cable telecast of all time.

"Musical 2," a sequel to the successful 2006 telefilm, surpassed the previous record holder, ESPN's "Monday Night Football" game on Sept. 23, 2006, which averaged 16 million viewers.

It also shattered the previous basic cable record for an entertainment program, surpassing the 12.5 million viewers who saw the 2001 premiere of the TNT Western "Crossfire Trail."

"For months we've been asking kids 'What time is it?' and it's exciting to finally get the answer ... it's time for record-breaking ratings," said Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group. "The entire team at Disney Channel, including Rich Ross, Gary Marsh and Michael Healy, deserve all the credit for helping to make television history."

Overall, "Musical 2" was the most watched program on television since the season finale of Fox's hit drama "House" on May 29 logged 17.26 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Additionally, "Musical 2" ranked as the most-watched TV telecast ever in kids 6-11 (6.1 million) as well as the most-watched entertainment telecast ever (and the second-highest-rated overall, behind only the 2004 Super Bowl) among tweens 9-14 (5.9 million).

The numbers, which include an eye-popping 9.4 million cable homes, would be even higher if the fact that many kids and parents nationwide gathered to watch at viewing parties was taken into account.

"Breaking the viewership record is terrific, but records come and go, and what's really important is the impact the 'High School Musical' movies have had on kids all over America and all over the world," said Marsh, Disney Channel Worldwide entertainment president. "These movies have empowered kids to express themselves in whole new ways and have changed their lives forever."

"Musical 2" also dwarfed the broadcast competition to become the most-watched Friday telecast in more than five years. It drew as many viewers as the Big Four broadcast networks combined and led Disney Channel to its second Friday win in the entire Nielsen universe after the cable channel's victory from 8-9:30 p.m. on July 19.

"Musical 2" had emerged as the TV event of the summer for preteen girls, who for weeks were planning parties tied to the premiere. As a precursor to the records to come, an encore telecast of the original "High School Musical" on Thursday drew 6 million viewers, an astounding 78% of the 7.7 million who watched the premiere of the film in 2006 and good enough for third place overall on the night behind only Fox and CBS.

In a sign of the franchise's meteoric rise from cable telefilm to cultural phenomenon, the second installment's marketing campaign included a giant billboard ad on Sunset Boulevard, a spot normally reserved for blockbuster features like "Pirates of the Caribbean."

The huge viewer turnout for "Musical 2" provided solid sampling for the special 15-minute preview of the upcoming Disney Channel animated series "Phineas and Ferb," which drew 10.8 million total viewers and 4.2 million kids 6-11, Disney Channel's second-largest audiences in both categories behind "Musical 2."

It was followed by a new episode of the hit series "Hannah Montana," which posted the largest numbers ever for a series telecast on basic cable in total viewers (10.7 million), kids 6-11 (4.2 million) and tweens 9-14 (4.1 million).

Since the first "Musical" movie premiered, it has become a global phenomenon and a lucrative franchise for the Walt Disney Co., spawning successful DVDs, CDs, games, live performances and lines of clothing and merchandise. "Musical"-related consumer products alone are expected to bring in $650 million in sales in fiscal-year 2008. A "Musical 3" feature is in the works at Walt Disney Pictures for release next year.

Although Disney Channel is handing over the "Musical" franchise to the company's feature division for the third movie, "there will be a lot of ways to keep it alive in the hearts and the minds of our young viewers for years to come," Marsh said.

In addition to reruns of the two movies and replays of the music videos spawned from them, Disney Channel soon will premiere "High School Musical: The Music In You," a musical-documentary from Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple that chronicles the efforts of students in Fort Worth, Texas, to produce a "Musical" stage adaptation.

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