'Madison High' pilot on fast track for Jan. debut target
High School Musical 3: Senior Year.” A fourth “HSM”-themed telepic, “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventures,” starring Tisdale, will bow on DVD this spring and on Disney Channel later this year. For “Madison High,” Disney Channel execs mounted extensive searches for triple-threat teenage comers who can handle the rigors of a tuner series. Series’ male lead role of a motocross racer who turns to drama as a new hobby went to Luke Benward, 15, while the femme lead went to Leah Lewis, 14. Benward, a native of Nashville, has had roles in the Disney Channel telepic “Minutemen” and features including “How to Eat Fried Worms,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” “Mostly Ghostly,” “Dear John” and “We Were Soldiers.” Lewis, from Orlando, Fla., is a newcomer with only a few commercials under her belt. Also set for the series is G Hannelius, a 12-year-old thesp who has logged appearances on numerous Disney Channel shows. Casting is still under way for three more moppet roles. If “Madison High” clicks as a series, it would allow Disney Channel to harvest steady ratings returns from an ongoing series in contrast to the event programming of the telepics. With “Glee” generating such heat for Fox, Disney Channel execs are eager to remind the biz that they were the first to take the gamble on a teen-focused tuner. “With ‘High School Musical,’ we introduced the joys of musicals and musical theater to a whole new generation and kids and families embraced the themes explored in those movies — about expressing oneself and following your dreams,” said Gary Marsh, prexy of entertainment and chief creative officer for Disney Channels Worldwide. “And now, with ‘Madison High,’ we hope to give kids a whole new set of characters with whom to engage — along with more great original music, dance numbers and songs.”
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