Fourth-season renewal sets stage for more spinoff opportunities

Disney Channel has renewed hit animated series “Phineas and Ferb,” a franchise that has rapidly become the Mouse’s version of “The Simpsons” in its broad appeal and merchandising capabilities.

“Phineas and Ferb,” a mainstay for Disney Channel as well as boy-centric Disney XD, is the No. 1 animated series in all of television among kids 6-11 and 9-14, but it also can boast that nearly 20% of its audience in its 9 p.m. Friday timeslot is adults. The confirmation of the fourth season will keep the Disney TV Animation-produced “Phineas” on the air through at least 2014, setting the stage for more spinoff projects throughout Disney’s divisions, including a feature release set for July 2013.

“It’s a little bit of comparing apples to oranges,” Disney Channels Worldwide prexy and chief creative officer Gary Marsh told Variety, “(but) we can look at ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Hannah Montana’ in the rear-view mirror and see how they grew into multimillion-dollar businesses. ‘Phineas’ is on that trajectory.”

Further, to Disney’s benefit, the “Phineas” cast (led by Vincent Martella, Ashley Tisdale and Thomas Sangster) doesn’t age — at least onscreen.

“Isn’t that fantastic,” Marsh said with a laugh.

Series creators and exec producers Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, who wrote the screenplay for the bigscreen “Phineas and Ferb” outing (for which Disney has since hired “Little Miss Sunshine” scribe Michael Arndt to do a pass on), each signed multi-year deals in August to remain on “Phineas” while developing other series ideas, including a “Phineas” spinoff. They also wrote the screenplay for the bigscreen pic, for which Disney recently hired “Toy Story 3″ scribe Michael Arndt to do a pass on.

“Breakout shows like ‘The Simpsons,’ like ‘SpongeBob SquarePants,’ come from visionary creators who have a very unique, personal artistic vision,” Gary Marsh said. “I definitely put (Povenmire and Marsh) in that same category.”

Thanks in large part to “Phineas,” Disney Channel caught Nickelodeon for the first time among boys 6-11, with a 2.0 rating in September and October. And in combination with such Disney Channel shows of recent vintage as “Good Luck Charlie,” “Shake It Up,” “A.N.T. Farm” and “Jessie,” “Phineas” has helped push Disney Channel past Nick among kids 6-11 year-to-date.

The drawing power of “Phineas” was also illustrated by the August premiere of the franchise’s first original smallscreen film, “Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension,” which became cable’s No. 1 animated telecast of all time among kids 2-11, ranks first year-to-date for all scripted TV in 6-11 and 9-14, and is No. 1 for cable scripted television this year in total viewers. Nearly 8 million viewers overall watched the initial airing of the telepic.

“Phineas” has also been a global success across foreign Disney channels. When it premiered in July on China’s CCTV, it reached 145 million total viewers within six weeks.

The show is also a textbook case of Disney machine in motion, with permutations emerging through DVDs, Disney Interactive Studios (including Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation 3 videogames), Walt Disney Records, Disney Consumer Products (from clothes and household items to branded yogurt and an upcoming Kellogg’s cereal) and live shows at Disney resorts as well as on tour. Through Disney Publishing, more than 5 million “Phineas” books have been sold via 90 separate titles, along with comics and an eight-issues-a-year magazine in 45 countries.

According to Disney Consumer Products, the burgeoning “Phineas” business is expected to triple in 2012.

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