By Kimberly Nordyke
When Disney Channel hit its adolescence in the mid-1990s, the cable channel underwent an age-appropriate, top-to-bottom transformation.
After 13 years as a pay service, Disney Channel accelerated the shift to the basic tier. Little kids were out as a primary target audience; tweens and young families were in under the new regime that arrived in 1996, led by former Nickelodeon and FX executives Anne Sweeney and Rich Ross.
A decade later, against all odds and the fickleness of its 9-14 target demo, Disney Channel is on a tear. The push into live-action original scripted programming has yielded a string of hits, including its first to reach the 100-episode milestone, "That's So Raven," and most recently, the "High School Musical" phenomenon. The made-for-TV toe-tapper, which some have dubbed "Grease" for the MySpace generation, exemplifies the Walt Disney Co.'s skill at turning successful TV programs and their stars into cottage industries extended far beyond the channel.