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Established in 1983 — a time when The Walt Disney Companynote  seemed to be on its last legs, just before the arrival of Michael Eisner and company — The Disney Channel initially served as an outlet for the company's old theatrical shorts, movies, and television shows, a source of documentary shows about Disney Theme Parks and films, and a dumping ground for productions Disney had little faith in.

Similar to Nickelodeon's early years, it didn't air around the clock until the "Disney After Dark" block, with PG programming for adults (including Going Home, a series of concert specials featuring mostly baby boomer-era acts, and A Prairie Home Companion), was added. note  The channel also featured a colorful variety of family-oriented movies and series from other companies and countries, especially Canada. (The Anne of Green Gables films were popular enough that they led to the successful spinoff series Avonlea in The '90s.) Many Eighties kids feel very nostalgic for these early days, which included Dot and the Kangaroo and its sequels, the Unico anime adaptations, the Tales for All films, and the later seasons of Kids Incorporated, all accompanied by colorful, often stop-motion Ad Bumpers. It also is remembered in that time for being a premium service, much like HBO.

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In the early '90's, when the company and the channel started getting treated with more respect, shows such as The New Mickey Mouse Club, the aforementioned Avonlea, Flash Forward (1996) (a launching pad for Ben Foster and Jewel Staite), In A Heartbeat and The Famous Jett Jackson helped the channel improve. Despite this though, Disney Channel eternally lagged behind the wildly popular Nickelodeon, in part because it was a pay cable service (and in part due to outside of that, what was cited as being a weak lineup). It subsequently moved to basic cable in the summer of 2001 (though the transition had been under way before then, at least to 1997 and the three block approach to programming) and developed a unique format — instead of commercial breaks, pauses in programming are filled with promotions for other shows, Disney films and other Disney products like CDs and their sister radio network, Radio Disney, which are often their own promotional mini-shows. In addition, the adult-oriented lineup was replaced with "Vault Disney", a programming block that featured vintage Disney shows.

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Then someone in the company had the idea for Lizzie McGuire. Lizzie McGuire, along with That's So Raven, would become smash hits for Disney Channel and were instrumental in growing the channel's audience among teenagers through reruns on ABC. On a darker note, because of their success, both shows would be scapegoated as the catalysts for the network's programming in the late 2000s.

By 2006, Disney Channel was targeting teenage girls as their primary audience. Thanks to the success of shows like Hannah Montana, the High School Musical franchise, and other, similar live-action series and their stars, Disney Channel would churn out more and more preteen sitcoms where the idealism is cranked up to eleven and the Laugh Track never stops. Disney Channel would also cut back on all other programming as a result. Non-preschool animated shows (like Phineas and Ferb) were banished to Toon Disney, which underwent a similar revamp and became Disney XD in 2009. The channel's programming was now segregated between the female-skewing Disney Channel and boy-targeted Disney XD. Meanwhile, the classic Disney stuff left the lineup in 2002 and has never returned (though much of it can be found on DVD, streaming services or on other cable networks).

Also, around this time, Disney Channel became especially infamous for giving most of its show's stars a singing career—whether it be singing covers of Disney classics, or pop hits penned by several writers. Most Disney Channel stars (especially main cast members) are picked specifically because they at least show a lot of singing promise, and much of their shows ends up being built around promoting that talent (e.g. Austin & Ally, A.N.T. Farm, Shake It Up!). These recordings are usually released through Hollywood Records.

All this came at the expense of the general Disney audience, who were outside of the channel's teenage demographic and were alienated by its programming and direction. These former fans pin the blame on then-president Anne Sweeney, for turning the once, all-inclusive Disney Channel into a teen-friendly entertainment channel that barely resembles anything associated with the brand its named after. Nonetheless, Disney Channel was able to finally beat Nickelodeon in the ratings. In 2012, Disney Channel broke Nick's 17-year long streak as the highest-rated kids channel in the U.S (in part, because of Nickelodeon's own decay).

2014 saw the departure of Anne Sweeney, the launch of the acclaimed Boy Meets World Sequel Series - Girl Meets World, and has seen Disney XD's programming eclipse that Disney Channel's in popularity and reception (though, not viewership). Whereas Disney Channel was pigeoned-holed as a teen sitcom network, Disney XD had been attracting a more gender-balanced audience with more action-oriented sitcoms, anime, and shows based on Marvel Comics and the Star Wars franchise, the latter of which led to an (ironic) increase in animated programming.

As a result of all this, as well as the recent decline of linear cable/satellite subscriptions, Disney Channel has been pivoting its programming away from exclusively targeting teenagers and back towards a more general audience. Shows like Andi Mack (a family drama and the first original series to feature a gay character) and Stuck in the Middle (a single-camera comedy starring a Hispanic family) were well-received for breaking away from the previous template of the channel's programming. Non-preschool animated programming has also made a resurgence, due to Disney Channel being in more households than Disney XD. On top of premiering new episodes of Disney XD originals, Disney Channel has also greenlit new series, like Amphibia, and began airing acquired shows, like Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (which was previously exclusive to international Disney Channels).

Disney Channel's sister networks include:

  • Toon Disney was a spinoff channel that focused on almost exclusively on Disney animation, but as a result of its aforementioned Network Decay became Disney XD. Ironically, the network has had an increased focus on animation in recent years, thanks to the success of Phineas and Ferb and shows based on Marvel Comics and the Star Wars franchise. Versions of Disney XD in international markets began life as Fox Kids; when Disney purchased Fox Kids, Fox Family and Saban Entertainment in 2001, they retained the FK name but later were rebranded as Jetix (a name used for a block on ABC Family and Toon Disney, eventually moving exclusively to the latter and took up more and more of its' schedule) before the rebrand to XD.

  • Playhouse Disney was a preschool-oriented morning block and a staple of the network for many years and underwent a number of shifts. On Valentine's Day, 2011 it was rebranded as Disney Junior and became a full 24-hour-network in the U.S. March 2012. Playhouse Disney had already existed as an independent network in many non-U.S. markets; these have since been relaunched under the Disney Junior brand as well.

See also Disney Channel Live-Action Universe.


Shows Originating on The Disney Channel: (shows marked with an asterisk appear on the "Disney XD on Disney Channel" block)

Animated:

Animated shows in both the "Playhouse Disney" and "Disney Junior" blocks

Animated shows in the Disney Junior block and 24/7 Disney Junior channel only

Animated shows airing only on the 24/7 Disney Junior channel

Animated shows in the "Playhouse Disney" block onlynote 

Live-action / puppetry shows in the "Playhouse Disney" block

Live-action / puppetry shows in both the "Playhouse Disney" and "Disney Junior" blocks

Also, at least seven The Disney Afternoon series which were made for syndication were "previewed" on The Disney Channel:

Live-Action

Other Disney shows that were produced outside of the United States:

  • As The Bell Ringsnote 
  • Evermoor (Re-titled The Evermoor Chronicles after the pilot)note 
  • Soy Lunanote 
  • Lilo & Stitch spin-offs:
    • Stitch!note 
    • Stitch & Ainote 
  • Violettanote 

Other Disney (or not) shows that originated elsewhere have aired on Disney Channel:

Disney Channel Original Movies

Other Disney (or not) movies that originated elsewhere have aired on Disney Channel:

Among the popular celebrities who gained fame through this channel:


  • Adored by the Network: Disney Channel was infamous for this during its eleven-year long Dork Age.
    • The most blatant examples are High School Musical and Hannah Montana. Since they premiered in early 2006, it had become very common for the former to play during the movie slot every week with heavy advertisement for it beforehand, and for the latter to have marathons. There have been examples where a Hannah Montana marathon ended with a High School Musical film being played at the end. Miley Cyrus even made a cameo in High School Musical 2. In fact, during their prime, they were both often played during a major event elsewhere.

Alternative Title(s): Disney Junior

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