'Shake' brings twist to established genre

Disney-groomed stars-turned-pop idols such as Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff and the Jonas Bros. may have outgrown the ‘tween demographic that made them multimedia brands, but the music-driven formula responsible for breaking many of the Disney Channel’s stock players shows no signs of abating.

And yet Disney’s latest offering, “Shake It Up,” gives the genre a new twist. Instead of the “let’s put on a show!” theme of such properties as “Hannah Montana,” “Camp Rock” and “High School Musical” — in which songs provide the forward momentum — the show, launched in November, revolves around a group of aspiring young dancers navigating the vagaries of teen life. Its two main characters, CeCe Jones and Rocky Blue, played by Bella Thorne and Zendaya Coleman, respectively, end up landing gigs as backup dancers on a local show, “Shake It Up Chicago.”

Executive producer Rob Lotterstein calls the series “TV’s first buddy-themed dance comedy.”

Disney execs, however, admit that outside influences came into play in conceiving their new brainchild. “Timing is everything,” says Steven Vincent, the Disney Channel’s VP, music and soundtracks, “and our show has been leveraged by an overall dance resurgence especially with the popularity of shows like ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ ”

The show represents an outgrowth of the channel’s overall strategy “in recognition of the strong role that music plays in kids’ lives,” says Vincent.

“Shake It Up,” aimed at children 6-14, has already shaken up the ratings with an average of 4.5 million total viewers after just 11 episodes, according to Disney Channel execs, who say it’s the most-watched series in the history of the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon among girls 9-14.

With Disney Channel soundtrack sales exceeding 39 million since 2006’s “High School Musical,” “Shake It Up” is also looking to cash in. “We’ve collaborated with Disney music divisions, and since we serve the same demographic, we know Radio Disney plays a strong role in our success, too,” says Vincent. “Kids want to sing ‘Shake It Up’ songs and have dance parties, signs that we’ve delivered something that has potential beyond TV.”

Lotterstein notes that its theme song, performed by another Disney Channel breakout star, Selena Gomez, has already notched No. 1 on Radio Disney. And recently, Disney Parks featured an original song from the series, “Our Generation,” in its show “Disney Channel Rocks” at Disney California Adventure.

If the Disney brand gives ancillary merchandise a built-in boost, there are certain responsibilities that come with the good housekeeping seal of approval. “With each new project, we set out to deliver music that is relevant and appealing to kids’ lives with lyrics that meet their parents’ approval,” assures Vincent.

On plans to take the show on the road a la the Jonas Bros. and Miley Cyrus, Vincent is optimistic: “A guy can dream and at Disney, we dream big!”

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