My Summer of Disney: Out With the Old

Photo courtesy of Disney Channel.

Photo courtesy of Disney Channel.

When I first began my Disney Channel adventure I had no idea that I was coming into it in the middle of a sea change. But as the past few days have made quite clear the Disney Channel is a-changin’. It was announced recently that Shake It Up would end after its third season and the death knell will be similarly sounded for Good Luck Charlie after a movie and a fourth season. To replace these shows Disney is ushering in a whole new slew of programs such as I Didn’t Do It, Girl Meets World, and Liv and Maddie.

In my personal opinion Shake It Up was the weakest link in the Disney sitcom lineup. Some of the jokes were downright painful, plots were obvious and bland, and the two protagonists were charmless, entitled, vapid, and portrayed with such draining hamminess by Zendaya and Bella Thorne that I’ve grown to dislike them as well. Needless to say the news of Shake It Up’s early demise did not perturb me too much (I was actually sort of glad).

However, the news of Good Luck Charlie’s forthcoming expiration did bother me. Good Luck Charlie was far and away the best sitcom in the lineup. A family based show with a charismatic main cast, Good Luck Charlie consistently landed the best jokes, had the most novel and interesting storylines, and managed to serve up both silliness and pathos like the best of major network sitcoms. The announcement that Good Luck Charlie would be moving to a farm upstate was more than a bit of a downer for me, as I could always rely on that show along with Dog With A Blog and Austin and Ally to buoy my faith in the quality of the channel against, (again, what I personally believe to be), the tug of offensively puerile refuse like ANT Farm, Jessie, and Shake It Up.

According to Deadline the practice of ending shows early is simply the Disney Channel way. Shake It Up is by no means a failure of a show; it is in fact the #1 TV program for kids 6-11 and 9-14. Good Luck Charlie is no slouch either; episodes average 3 million viewers. It seems as though Disney simply decides to kill off shows when they hit 100-odd episodes, regardless of the fan base. I believe this raises some interesting questions.

Obviously, I am not so invested in any of these shows as to be distraught by their ending. But supposing Disney Channel was a much larger part of my life, I would certainly feel betrayed by the arbitrary nature of their executions. What the cancellation of these shows subliminally says is that all sitcoms are products with expiration dates and they will end regardless of how good they are or how much you love them. It’s a bizarre model for what I assume is an organization designed to draw in the most viewers and hell-bent on appearing as the generous purveyor of a community you love (recall, if you read my previous articles, the ad spot which declared earnestly of the sitcoms, “this is for you”).

As I am not a Disney exec I cannot say with certainty why the network gives shows inflexible lifetimes but I can venture a few guesses. First, as Disney is a star-making enterprise, a constant flow of new shows provides a greater amount of new people and thus more capital from movies they star in, magazines their faces sell, singles they get to issue, etc. and the ushering out of old shows is a necessary causality. The new shows Disney is now proudly touting are full of fresh faces, and the stars of the cancelled shows remain in the Disney universe (Zendaya is set to act in an original movie based on Boys Are Dogs and is dropping a new single).

Another more cynical option is that Disney simply sees its shows as expendable product, and the ease at which they can pull the plug on their most popular (Shake It Up) and most quality (Good Luck Charlie) shows is a testament to the overarching sameness they view the programs with, as well as the vapidity of the consumers who allow the shows they watch the most to be cycled out in a mindless subservience to the Disney machine. It’s not nice to think about this option but of course there certainly could be a kernel of truth to it. Yet the intricacy with which Disney has built its imagined community seems to run in contradiction with the detached and arbitrary capitalist monster of this scenario. Why would the channel take such care in its stars and the illusion of a multi-level tele-community if it were going to treat its shows so casually?

Perhaps Disney knows deep down that many of these shows are not built to go long distances, and by ending them early they preserve a sense of specialness in them. These shows are formidable parts of many peoples childhoods, and its reassuring to think that one’s favorite Disney sitcom is sure to be frozen in time, welcoming and familiar when re-viewed in the future, and immune to depressing qualitative disintegration (like Spongebob Squarepants). The fact that Good Luck Charlie will never see its stars age or its plots eventually surrender to shark-jumping means that it exists now as it ever will and that to me and to all its other viewers it will be a link to the 2013 era of Disney, and of life.

If this is the purpose then Disney is doing something rather brilliant: building a nostalgia machine and making its shows larger than they are by ending them before aging them; by sealing them off to an era they preserve their magic and strengthen the link between the viewing experience and the particular time in the viewers life. In the same way the brevity of My So Called Life’s run links it inextricably to a time, a place, a feeling, so will Disney shows act as cultural time capsules in the tween-mainstream universe. This would make the 100-episode cap less dart-at-a-board bloodlust and more a method of careful memory and quality curation.

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