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Disney Junior tries new tack with young viewers

Disney Junior tries new tack with young viewers

February 15th, 2011 by LYNN ELBER, AP Television Writer in News

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.