POSTED BY STEVEN ZEITCHIK

ZachsmDisney Channel took the wraps off the sequel to its money-minting–er, extraordinarily monetizable– "High School Musical" at TCA Saturday morning.

The franchise has become a machine for the Mouse, between the various television/album/homevideo/legit/flamethrower extensions. How the net will position and promote the August 17 sequel–with cozy star-studded backyard barbecue (telecast, of course), pre-debut debuts of music videos online, and even a parent-aimed docu from Barbara Kopple (!) centering on a high-school stage production of the original–is the more fundamental question.

After all, the phenom was one of the biggest factors on Disney’s bottom line in 2005 and 2006. And a sequel–especially for a television movie–is a notoriously tricky thing. Will the tens of millions of teens from Tuscon to Tuscaloosa (not to mention Brazil and Australia) go for a whole new set of numbers and storylines when they’re so attached to the old ones? (Writer Peter Barsocchini said in an interview that he and other creators were especially careful not to "remake a single one of the elements" from HSM1.)

But most journos at the session were interested in the stars, lobbing fungo balls to the group about its projects and personal lives. The post-session chitchat offered the odd specter of dozens of, um, out-of-the-demo critics mobbing the cast; at least twenty crushed in on lead Zac Efron (pictured with HSM2 costar Vanessa Hudgens), shoving their tape recorders in his face the way a teenage girl might her camera-phone.

Execs, for their part, were coy about a potential theatrical, saying that a script was being written and that there was negotiation with the stars and…they couldn’t say anything else. A movie based on a blockbuster property owned by the company? From Disney? The HSM cast wouldn’t even need to say duh.

–Steven Zeitchik

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