That low rumble you're hearing across the land on Friday is the sound of tween and pre-tween girls camping out in front of their TV sets and getting ready to swoon and shout for the latest Disney Channel's musical telepic franchise, "Camp Rock."
"Camp Rock" has an virtually impossible act to follow in "High School Musical 2," the telepic that set a basic cable viewing record last August with 17 million-plus tuning in. But "Camp Rock" has a fighting chance in that it is fortified with the Jonas Brothers, the red-hot cute-brothers band that has been raking it in the past few months on tour in the U.S. and Europe, and with hit records released, of course, by Disney's Hollywood Records.
The aptly timed movie set in a summer camp revolves around the leader of a boy rock band who is sent to camp by his band mates for a dose of "bratty boy rehab," explains Disney Channel entertainment prexy Gary Marsh.
"Camp Rock" is different from "High School Musical" in that the tunes are more directly embedded into the storytelling to enhance the plot and characters, as opposed to the more song-and-dance number approach of Troy and his crew, Marsh says.
Project was in development for some time before the Jonas Brothers became attached. Disney brass initially sought to cast the mega-heartthrob Jonas sibling Joe in the lead role. But in a scene right out of, well, a Disney Channel telepic, Joe told the Mouse House execs that he'd only do it if they crafted parts for his siblings Nick and Kevin as well. That wasn't hard to accommodate, Marsh says.
"Camp Rock," which has gotten the heavy rotation promo on Disney Channel's air and website for more than a month, is another example of the Mouse House moppet star-making process at work -- though Marsh insists that they don't have as much of a "grand design" for their young stars as it sometimes appears.
Jonas Brothers are getting the big showcase via "Camp Rock" and their tour and recordings in advance of the preem next year of "J.O.N.A.S," the Disney Channel series that will feature them as rock stars who insist on living a normal life, going to public school etc.
Jonas Brothers first popped up on Marsh's radar a few years ago, when they were tapped to record the theme song for the Disney Channel animated series "American Dragon: Jake Long." When the brothers were on camera filming a music vid for that theme (Disney Channel lets no bit of its commercial-free airtime go unused without a music vid or interstitial bit featuring budding talents), Marsh (pictured right with Disney Channel boss Rich Ross, far left) realized "that there was an energy from their (musical) performance that translated well on screen."
The only problem at the time was that the brothers were signed to Columbia Records. So Disney execs left the trio with a hearty handshake an invitation to "come see us if you're ever free," Marsh said.
A year later, they were, after Columbia did a housecleaning of its roster. Disney moved in quickly and cranked up its unparalleled kidvid marketing machine, which has translated to strong sales of the sibs' first Hollywood Records disc, "The Jonas Brothers." The response to the tours has been enough to convince the Mouse to give the brothers the Miley Cyrus 3-D concert pic treatment with a theatrical release planned for next year.
Costarring with the Jonas boys in "Camp Rock" is the comely Demi Lovato (pictured left), who has generated a fair amount of advance buzz for her perf and pop warbling in the telepic. Lovato is the star if Disney Channel's upcoming "Welcome to Mollywood," about a plucky girl from Wisconsin who realizes her dream of becoming an actress when she lands a a role on a TV sketch comedy series.
Moreover, Disney Channel will further capitalize on Lovato's buzz through another telepic (non-musical) that it already has in the can. Lovato and Selena Gomez, the bubbling-up star of its latest hit skein, "The Wizards of Waverly Place" are the stars of "Princess Protection Program" which is just what it sounds like, a comedy romp about contempo princesses who are placed under federal protection after running afoul of evil stepmothers and the like.
(The best only-at-Disney-Channel tidbit that I got from my chat with Marsh is that the15-year-old Gomez and Lovato are best friends and have been for years. They met when they were 7 while waiting in line to audition for PBS' "Barney and Friends.")
Marsh has in the biz too long to hazard a guess at how big the aud for "Camp Rock" will be. (I'll go out on a limb and say 7 million-8 million viewers, minimum. Sunday update: I'm never right on these things but whattya know, I wasn't far off this time. "Camp Rock" brought in 8.9 million viewers for the Friday 8-10 p.m. preem.) He believes it is a worthy installment in the unique brand of tuner-telepic that Disney has fine-tuned during the past few years, starting with "The Cheetah Girls." And he's not particularly concerned about the inevitable performance comparisons to "High School Musical," which became a hit of flukey, worldwide phenomenon, ancillary biz-spawning proportions. (The kind of fluke that allows Robert Iger to sleep well at night)
Most important, Marsh says, "Camp Rock" is a fun ride for kids who should be primed for a little summer escapist fare.
Telepic is a perfect example "of a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland 'let's put on a show' musical," Marsh says.
"There's a natural evolution to how the music informs the characters. And there's a layer of comedy (from the brothers) that our audience will really respond to. I think there's some lines in there that the kids will be repeating for weeks."