- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Star-crossed hit

When it comes to timeless tales, that Shakespeare fella sure had the right idea centuries before the Walt Disney Co. latched onto his “Romeo and Juliet.”

A TV musical based loosely on the Bard’s account of star-crossed love has become a hit for Disney, Reuters news agency reports.

The mega entertainment company yesterday shipped 1.8 million DVDs of its made-for-TV “High School Musical” to retailers. Disney plans eventually to sell it in 100 international markets.

The musical centers on Troy — a high school basketball star and wannabe singer, played by little-known actor Zac Efron — and the nerdy Gabriella, played by equally unknown Vanessa Anne Hudgens. The mismatched pair meet at a New Year’s Eve karaoke contest, fall in love and decide to audition for their high school musical against the wishes of their friends, thus sealing their fate.

Meanwhile, Disney Studios is working on a Bollywood feature-film version of the tale, starring actors from India and using Indian-flavored versions of the songs. The company also will consider re-shooting the TV movie with Spanish-speaking actors for Latin markets.

“A TV movie has never done this,” said Rich Ross, head of Disney Channel Worldwide. “We have big plans for this.”

“High School Musical” was made for the Disney Channel on a Utah soundstage for a modest $4.2 million and was simply one of the 65 made-for-TV movies the cable network has produced since it debuted in January. However, a hit was born when its young audience learned the upbeat pop tunes and dance numbers from “behind the scenes” features and music videos on the Disney Channel. They also began downloading the songs on ITunes ahead of the show’s Jan. 20 premiere, pushing the TV movie’s ratings into the stratosphere. A sequel to the TV movie is scheduled for next year.

A dozen airings of the show on the Disney Channel have delivered 36.5 million unique viewers, including 11.1 million of the coveted 9- to 14-year-old demographic known as “tweens.”

According to 360Youth.com, a Web site produced by Alloy Media + Marketing, tweens on average spend about $51 billion annually, with parents and family members spending an additional $170 billion on goods and services for those in the age group.

‘Idol’ worship

The “American Idol” steamroller showed no sign of slowing down heading into finals week.

Fox’s singing sensation maintained its hold on first and second place last week, mere days before tonight’s deciding episode, Associated Press reports.

Meanwhile, CBS marked its 10th consecutive weekly prime-time win and ABC scored with season finales for “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Fourth-place NBC did well with its series finale for “Will & Grace,” which vaulted to the top 10 from a season-to-date 59th-place ranking.

For the week, CBS ruled with an average 12 million viewers (7.8 rating, 13 share), while Fox drew 11 million viewers (6.8 rating, 11 share). ABC had 10.5 million viewers (6.7 rating, 11 share), while NBC had 9.6 million viewers (6.3 rating, 10 share).

UPN had 2.7 million viewers (1.8 rating, 3 share), the WB had 2.3 million viewers (1.5 rating, 2 share), and the I network (formerly Pax TV) had 400,000 viewers (0.3 rating, 0 share).

A ratings point represents 1.102 million households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 110.2 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of May 15 through 21, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships: “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 28.33 million; “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 27.67 million; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 25.40 million; “Desperate Housewives” (season finale), ABC, 24.23 million; “Grey’s Anatomy” (Monday season-finale special), ABC, 22.50 million.

Gibson’s new chair

Charles Gibson won’t be hitting the snooze button much longer.

Mr. Gibson, co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” is taking over the anchor chair on the network’s “World News Tonight,” Associated Press reports. Current “World News Tonight” co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas is pregnant and will go on leave later this summer. She will return in the fall to co-anchor the network’s “20/20” newsmagazine.

ABC’s announcement did not specify a role for Bob Woodruff, Miss Vargas’ co-anchor on “World News Tonight” until he was seriously wounded in a roadside bombing in Iraq on Jan. 29. Mr. Woodruff, who still is recovering from serious head injuries and broken bones, called Mr. Gibson a mentor and friend. “I look forward to contributing to his broadcast as soon as I am able,” Mr. Woodruff said.

Mr. Gibson will begin his “World News Tonight” duties on Monday. He will continue on “Good Morning America” through June and then leave that broadcast to concentrate solely on the evening news. ABC did not immediately name a replacement for Mr. Gibson on “GMA.”

Yesterday’s announcement, made by ABC News President David Westin, came less than a week after “World News Tonight” fell to last place in the evening news ratings for the first time since 2001, placing it behind NBC and the resurgent CBS. CBS has hired NBC “Today” show co-anchor Katie Couric to become its evening news anchor.

In November, Mr. Westin appointed Miss Vargas and Mr. Woodruff to replace the late Peter Jennings as lead anchor on “World News Tonight.” He also approached Mr. Gibson to consider a temporary stint on the newscast before Mr. Woodruff and Miss Vargas took over, but Mr. Gibson balked at the deadline.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.


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