While it is just one show, “Andi Mack” represents a bold new direction for Disney Channel, whose ratings have somewhat declined in recent years as children, reaching puberty earlier and raised on services like Netflix, gravitate to live-action programming with more edge and authenticity.
“I know I can’t go to the hugely dramatic space,” said Gary Marsh, president of Disney Channels Worldwide. “I can’t go to the sexual space. I can’t go horror. Where can I go that would elevate the content and get people talking about us in a way that is different from the way they talk about us normally?”
“There has to be an equivalent in our space,” he said. “Stories that matter, that deal with more complex issues, that are emotional, resonate longer. They stick to your guts.”
The internet has created more curious and progressive kids. That has led to what the industry calls “age compression” — getting older younger. At the same time, Netflix in many ways has become the go-to outlet for families. YouTube has also had an enormous impact.
Disney Channel ratings have been sinking. In February, according to Nielsen data, standard viewership was down 18 percent among children 2 to 11 from the same period in 2016 — even as the rival Nickelodeon held steady. (Unlike the animation-heavy Nickelodeon, Disney Channel does not sell traditional ads, so ratings matter less. But it does sell sponsorships, and needs to keep viewership high to justify the fees it charges cable distributors.)
“Andi Mack” got its start in 2015, when Mr. Marsh asked a television writer named Terri Minsky to have breakfast. If anyone could help Disney Channel step in a bold, new direction, Mr. Marsh had decided, it was her. In 2001, Ms. Minsky helped a then-struggling Disney Channel find its voice by creating the hit sitcom “Lizzie McGuire.” T
“I really didn’t want to ever write for kids again because I do feel like it interrupts their development,” she said. “There are certainly examples of people who have gone off the rails.” (Amanda Bynes. Miley Cyrus. Mary-Kate Olsen. Vanessa Hudgens. Zac Efron. Demi Lovato. Britney Spears. Lindsay Lohan.)
Still, Ms. Minsky said that something Mr. Marsh had told her at breakfast was intriguing. “He said, ‘We’re kind of looking to do something different — we feel like ABC Family has abdicated that market for teenagers, and there is an opportunity for us,’” Ms. Minsky recalled.
Emboldened by Mr. Marsh’s entreaty, Ms. Minsky pitched an idea she got while reading an article about Jack Nicholson’s life; the woman he thought was his sister (until he was nearly 40) was his mother. To Ms. Minsky’s shock, Mr. Marsh liked the concept. It was a self-discovery story that, in success, could appeal to both children and their parents.
For the crucial lead role, Ms. Minsky cast the newcomer Peyton Elizabeth Lee. Aside from her presence on camera, Ms. Minsky liked that the young actress did not look as if she had fallen off a child-star assembly line: Ms. Lee, who is of mixed ethnicity, has short hair and a crooked grin. “Disney was, like, ‘Should we grow her hair out?’ And I was, like, ‘No!’” Ms. Minsky recalled.
“Andi Mack” stands out for more than its subject matter. Scenes were shot outside. Sets were built to look like the real world. (Andi does not have an impossibly bedazzled bedroom.) Story lines play out over a full season. The characters, not the situation, are meant to be compelling.
***The above comes from a New York Times article posted on March 10, 2017. Click here to read the entire article.***