Nerdy "Romeo and Juliet" a hit for Disney

Mon May 22, 2006 8:47pm ET
By Gina Keating

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A TV musical loosely based on William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" featuring a high school jock and a science nerd as star-crossed lovers has become a sleeper hit for the Walt Disney Co..
Disney on Tuesday will release a DVD for the made-for-TV "High School Musical." It has shipped some 1.8 million copies of the DVD to retailers and eventually plans to sell it in 100 international markets. The musical is set around Troy, a high school basketball star and wannabe singer, played by little known actor Zac Efron, and nerdy Gabriella, played by equally unknown Vanessa Anne Hudgens.
The mismatched pair meet at a New Year's Eve karaoke contest, fall in love and decide to audition for their high school musical against the wishes of their friends, thus sealing their fate.
Disney Studios is working on a Bollywood feature film starring actors from India and Indian-flavored versions of the songs, and is considering reshooting the TV movie for Latin markets with Spanish-speaking actors.
"A TV movie or TV programming has never done this," said Rich Ross, head of Disney Channel Worldwide. "We have big plans for this." "High School Musical," was made on a Utah soundstage for a modest $4.2 million for the Disney Channel, and was simply one of the 65 made-for-TV movies the cable network has produced since it debuted in January.

But kids learned the upbeat pop tunes and dance numbers from "behind the scenes" features and music videos on the Disney Channel and downloaded the songs on iTunes ahead of the show's January 20 premiere, pushing ratings for "High School Musical" into the stratosphere.
The student equivalent of word-of-mouth -- playground and Internet chatter -- contributed to its success, said Ross.
A dozen airings of the show on the Disney Channel have delivered 36.5 million unique viewers, including 11.1 million of the coveted 9- to 14-year-old demographic known as "tween," or between children and teens. Tweens spend $51 billion in an average year, with parents and family members buying another $170 billion for them, according to Alloy Media + Marketing's Web site 360Youth.com.

Disney Channel quickly began turning the title into a franchise. It began using it across its divisions and licensing it to outside retailers before the TV show's luster dimmed, Ross said.
The soundtrack has spent 19 weeks on Billboard magazine's best-selling album chart this year, spending 13 weeks as a top 10 album. Disney says it has shipped 3.3 million CDs.
It also was the first TV movie to reach No.1 on Billboard's Top 200.
A book based on the screenplay debuted this week as No. 4 on the New York Times children's paperback best-seller list, based solely on pre-orders. An original book series based on the characters in the movie also will be published soon, a stage version is in the works, and Disney's consumer products division has already rolled out clothing and stationery lines at 600 Justice and Limited Too stores, which cater to tweens.
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