LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Playhouse Disney preschool programming block is being remade this week as Disney Junior, with a revamped lineup as well as name.
Disney Junior, which expands the Playhouse target audience from 2 to 5 to ages 2 to 7, is a precursor to a 24-hour basic cable and satellite channel that is set to replace Disney's SOAPnet in 2012.
The Disney Junior programming block airs on Disney Channel from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET weekdays and 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. ET weekends. There's also a companion website.
"We were basically looking to redefine the brand image" to convey what the programming offers, said Carolina Lightcap, president of Disney Channels Worldwide. ""Playhouse' really meant just fun and parents didn't perceive a lot of learning value in the name."
Besides reaching slightly older viewers, the new lineup will also draw more heavily on what Lightcap called Disney's "brand vision" as it vies with front-runners Nickelodeon and PBS in the contest for the sippy-cup-and-up crowd.
Familiar Disney "heritage" characters will be featured in Disney Junior shows, she said, including the short-form segment "Mickey Mousekersize," and the animated series "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," which drops characters Captain Hook and Smee (of 1950s "Peter Pan" film vintage) into a new story.
Disney Junior's goal is to engage children with magical tales that have "heart," Lightcap said. "It's all about storytelling and the learning derived from storytelling," with social skills - such as learning to share - and health habits part of the curriculum.
"Babar and the Adventures of Badou" and "Tinga Tinga Tales" are among other new full-length programs that will be part of a lineup that includes the previous Playhouse Disney series "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," "Handy Manny" and "Imagination Movers."
Short-form shows airing between series include "Special Agent Oso: Three Healthy Steps" and "A Poem Is ...," an animated series with poems set to scenes from Disney films including "Dumbo" and "Bambi." Katie Holmes and Jennifer Garner are among the celebrity narrators.
While young viewers seem unlikely to need a 24-hour cable channel, Lightcap said the expansion will be a boon to parents: As a mother herself, she said, she knows the value of having a child happily distracted in the early evening while she handles dinner or other tasks.