Monday, June 7, 2010

"High School (Musical)" Never Ends

I should have seen this coming. The Disney Channel Original Movie phenomenon, "High School Musical," will be getting a reboot with a new film starring a new cast. It's set to air in 2012, a scant six years after the debut of the 2006 original. I'm not sure if I missed the announcement somewhere in the flurry of television upfronts a few weeks ago, or if the news emerged sometime before that. I've found a 2008 press release confirming the existence of a "High School Musical 4" project, but nothing about it transmogrifying into a reboot before the Jim Hill Media post I stumbled across last night. This makes Sony's "Spider-Man" reboot plans seem positively lead-footed in comparison.

Let me make one thing clear. I've never seen "High School Musical." I'm totally unfamiliar with any of the recent crop of Disney Channel tween properties except from what I hear from my younger cousins, and their commiserating parents. I've managed to avoid listening to any of the music. I don't think I've encountered any performances by the young actors involved, with the exception of Zac Efron's minor role in the 2007 "Hairspray" remake. Thus I make no judgments as to quality or worthiness of the franchise one way or the other. I have no great opinion of the Disney child-star factory, which has been in operation since the Mickey Mouse Club days, but the product being turned out could be phenomenal for all I know. It certainly keeps its eight-year-old target audience happy.

And the eight-year-old target audience is exactly why I think Disney is going to get away with this without much resistance, and why I find myself shrugging off the decision more easily than I would if it were a franchise aimed at grown-ups. Children's entertainment is so specifically targeted to certain age groups, the turnover in viewers is much quicker. With adult audiences, the current crop of remakes and reboots are all based on properties from the 80s, which means it takes about thirty years or roughly a generation for memories of a once successful property to fade. With kids, who have much shorter attention spans, a new audience comes along every time the current crop ages out. The original fans of "High School Musical" are now actually high school aged themselves – so they're not likely to have much interest in the idealized, sanitized rock'n'roll version any longer. But their younger siblings will.

I suspect the new "High School Musical" film will actually be more of a spinoff than a reboot proper, using the same formula as the original but following new characters. One of the secondary "High School Musical" debutantes, Sharpay, is getting her own TV movie soon with the original actress, so Disney doesn't want us to forget about the alumni of the first film series quite yet. There's precedence for TV franchises trying to carry on in a similar fashion: "Saved By the Bell: The New Class," premiered only four years after the original "Saved By the Bell." The various iterations of "Power Rangers" stopped trying to maintain an ongoing continuity after the first few years, because most of the original viewers had aged out of the audience.

What does concern me is the likelihood that these shorter and shorter reboot cycles in feature films is indicative of some worrying trends – that the target audience for some big franchises are starting to skew much younger, and our entertainment in general is getting more niche and more age-specific. Sony's new "Spider-Man" is being aimed at high-schoolers, the same bunch that is just aging out of the "High School Musical" audience. I can just imagine kids in the future having all their media consumption planned out for them from birth, from Sesame Street as toddlers to the umpteenth reboots of either "Sex and the City" or "Wild Hogs" when they hit their forties, depending on their preferences. And no doubt we'll be able to follow our favorite actors along similarly predetermined career paths. Just imagine Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens reuniting in a few years to remake "Knocked Up" while Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl reboot "Date Night."

To a degree I know this already happens, but it feels like the categories are getting narrower and more rigidly defined than ever. When I was the right age to be watching "High School Musical" guess what my favorite show was? "Golden Girls." It was how my mother and I bonded on Saturday nights, enjoying the shenanigans of four lively old ladies living it up in Miami together.

Now there's a show that will probably never get a reboot. Thank goodness.

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