Gary Marsh, the longtime head of Disney Channels who steered such franchises as “High School Musical,” “Descendants,” “Phineas and Ferb” and “Gravity Falls,” will transition at year’s end to a production pact with the studio.
Marsh is one of the most well-liked executives on the Disney lot, respected for his long tenure in shaping programming for Disney’s signature cable outlets. He is respected in the industry from his strong track record and eye for spotting budding talents including Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, the Jonas Brothers, Zendaya, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Demi Lovato, Shia LaBeouf, Olivia Rodrigo and Debby Ryan.
“Gary’s leadership and creative genius have shaped a generation of beloved kids and family programming, and we are forever grateful for the indelible impact he’s made at the Walt Disney Company,” said Peter Rice, chairman of Disney General Entertainment. “Gary is a valued leader and good friend, and we’ve been talking about this move for years. So when he decided to focus solely on producing after three decades of an amazing executive career, I jumped at the opportunity to keep him among us.”
Marsh will transition next year to a broad production pact with Disney General Entertainment that calls for him to develop content for all Disney platforms, from ABC to National Geographic in addition to programs for children and youth. Marsh will start the deal with commitments from Disney to develop projects around existing Disney IP, including two new “Descendants” movies, working with Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz on the prequel to “Beauty and the Beast” and with producers John Davis and John Fox on “Witch Mountain.”
“For 33 years, I’ve had the greatest job in television,” Marsh said. “The stories we’ve told, the music we’ve created, the stars we’ve discovered, the franchises we’ve built – all of it has entertained and engaged millions of kids and families around the globe. Thanks to the reach of Disney’s streaming platforms, those stories will live forever in the hearts and minds of future generations, alongside all the new stories I look forward to telling. There simply could not be a more compelling or creatively stimulating time to enter the production ranks.”
The departure of Marsh from a senior executive role is another sign of the transformation of Disney for the streaming era. The resources that were once poured into domestic and international Disney-branded channels are shifting to Disney Plus. Marsh is more valuable to Disney as a producer these days than he is in managing a cable channels group.
Rich Ross, former Disney Channels Worldwide chief, credited Marsh with working to elevate the stature of programming designed for children and young adults.
“He treats kids and family content with the respect it deserves and the freshness it needs,” Ross told Variety. “He’s made a commitment to telling great stories, and that has created a canon of content for the ages.”
Marsh joined Disney Channel as a programming executive in the late 1980s when it was a pay cable service that had limited reach. He was part of the team that revved up the service with original live-action and animated programming such as “Hannah Montana” and “Lizzie McGuire.” That group also changed the Disney Channel business model from pay cable to basic, albeit without any advertising, to expand the channel’s reach in America’s living rooms.
Marsh climbed the ranks during Anne Sweeney and Ross’ respective tenures as head of the prosperous unit once known as Disney Channels Worldwide. Marsh was promoted to president of the group in 2011. Last November, he was appointed president and chief creative officer of Disney Branded Television after Disney’s mega restructuring of its content and distribution groups.
Over his long run at Disney, Marsh has been an influential figure in the careers of many creatives. Kenny Ortega, director-producer behind the “High School Musical” franchise, hailed him as a “great mentor” who gave him crucial breaks.
“Gary is without question a major influence and contributor to my success. Had it not been for Gary’s talent, vision, and imagination, I might never have had the shot to fully realize my dreams as a film director and choreographer,” Ortega told Variety. “My hope is to be back in his company creating and developing alongside him again in his new pursuits.”