The children’s network is pushing more “adult” fare.
Until the turn of the new millennium, most of television was a “safe space” for young viewers. With a very few exceptions, such as premium networks like HBO, even most cable networks ran programming which could be enjoyed by the entire family; and the same was true of prime-time broadcast networks.
Since about the year 2000, however, the story has changed. The major broadcast networks have abandoned truly family-friendly original programming, which has steadily been forced into a ghetto of small, independent cable networks like INSP, UP and the Hallmark Channel. While broadcast “diginets” or “subchannels” like MeTV and Antenna TV take up some slack, most show decades-old reruns. Even fewer networks bother to program anything specifically for children. Even Cartoon Network promptly switches over to its “Adult Swim” programming at 7 p.m. each night.
Trading on its nearly century-long reputation for clean, family entertainment, the Disney Channel has been one of the few exceptions to this trend.
According to a recent article in TV Line, Disney Channel’s upcoming series Andi Mack will be Disney Channel’s “most adult show yet.” The show’s storyline will feature a a 13-year-old girl named Andi learning that the woman whom she thought was her older sister became pregnant as a teen – and is actually her mother, while the woman Andi assumed was her mother is actually her grandmother. The first season will gradually build to the revelation of the identity of Andi’s father.
While series creator Terri Minsky (creator of the Disney Channel series Lizzie McGuire) claims that “We’re not going to say where babies come from,” she adds that “I can’t say for a fact that we’ll never talk about sex…We don’t specifically say the words ‘pregnant teenager,’ but we have conversations about invasion of privacy and how she left home.” Indeed, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the National Center on Adoption and Permanency were key players in helping Minsky write the show.
While the series itself may indeed remain free of explicit sexual content, and the premise is only mildly controversial (similar situations were hardly unknown in real life, even decades ago), a deeper question is why Disney Channel feels the need to pursue such programming. Minsky states that “[The network] asked me for something different. They wanted to attract an older audience.”
Really? The DISNEY CHANNEL – a brand-name synonymous for decades with family-friendly content “wants to attract an older audience?” Why?
It cannot possibly be that the network has a financial need for more adult viewers. As one of only a few channels catering to children, Disney is practically unrivaled in its audience share. It has a virtual lock on entire age groups – and while children have little disposable income of their own, they do have a tremendous influence on the purchases made by their parents.
Rather, the move comes because of changes the entertainment industry and others believe are taking place. For example, The New York Times claims that “The internet has created more curious and progressive kids, leading to what the industry calls “age compression” — allegedly acting older while younger. (Naturally, the industry’s own complicity in this trend, with its non-stop promotion of ever-more sexually explicit material, goes unmentioned.) Thus, having deliberately created the demand for more sex and adult material – by choosing to abandon family-friendly, all-ages entertainment to begin with — the industry now feels pressure to fill it. This downward spiral is the inevitable result of twenty years’ worth of Family Guy, Two and a Half Men, and dozens of similarly sexually explicit shows…and now, it is affecting even Disney (which, rather than battling the trend with its huge library of quality family-friendly fare, seems rather to embrace it).
Disney’s inexplicable choice to move toward more “adult” fare may ultimately prove to be as misbegotten as the decision by the executives at Nick Jr. to embrace the more “adult” NickMom programming block – a decision which devestated and, ultimately, destroyed the entire network.
While Andi Mack itself may prove to be acceptable for families, make no mistake: this show is just the beginning. The Disney Channel is deliberately choosing to “lean forward” and promote adult content to children. By choosing to move in the direction of more “adult” stories and content, the Disney Channel – and the entire Disney media empire – may be choosing to sacrifice something far more precious…the trust generations of parents have reposed in the name “Disney.”