Fall TV Preview 1997: Sunday
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY
ABC, 7-9 PM
STARTS SEPT. 28
Kids, shield your eyes. here’s the shocking, behind-the-scenes truth about Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, ABC’s upcoming mega-musical. The glass slippers ain’t glass — they’re shatterproof acrylic. Worse, they don’t even fit on the size 9 feet of star Brandy (she of UPN’s Moesha). Okay, one pair does, but another pair would only fit Minnie Mouse. ”The ones the prince holds up on the pillow are very, very tiny, so they look incredibly delicate,” says director Robert Iscove. ”They’re too small for any human.”
That’s about the only small thing in this production. Slated to air Nov. 2, and intended to be as eternal as the 1965 Lesley Ann Warren classic, Cinderella boasts Goliath stars (Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother, Whoopi Goldberg as the queen, Jason Alexander as the prince’s steward) and a mammoth budget ($12 million, about four times the tab of the average TV movie). And then there’s its home: The heavily hyped return of The Wonderful World of Disney.
It seems there will always be a World in this world. A mix of made-for-TV movies and big-screen features, this series has logged a record 34 seasons on network TV. Back in 1954 on ABC, Uncle Walt delivered the first hokey intro, and since then it’s gone through three networks, eight name changes (it was originally called Disneyland), and two hosts — the latest being Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, who took over in 1986. (”The first spot I did I had 50-some-odd takes, that’s how bad I was,” says Eisner, who adds he’s ”marginally” better now.)
The World‘s last network outing — on NBC, from 1988 to ’90 — garnered only tepid ratings. But tenacious Disney thought it was time for another shot. ”We have the ability now to have a much more concentrated effort because of the ownership of Disney and ABC together,” says Eisner.
That means big-time theatricals (Toy Story, Pocahontas) and pricey, star-laden original movies (Kirstie Alley in the tooth-fairy comedy Toothless, Richard Dreyfuss in Oliver Twist). ”We can make these films with a much larger budget,” says Eisner, because ”we have Disney channels all over the world.” And here in America, there will be the further support of cross-promotions galore: billboards at theme parks, McDonald’s tie-ins, plugs on home videos. And, in a case of synergy gone mad, there’s even a movie — Tower of Terror — inspired by a ride at Walt Disney World.
Truth is, they’ll need all the ammo they can fire. Third-place ABC is trying to horn in on what is arguably the most competitive night on the schedule, a night that boasts juggernaut programming on two other networks: CBS’ 60 Minutes and Touched by an Angel, and Fox’s doubleheader snark-fest of The Simpsons and King of the Hill.
Disney is gambling that World‘s 7 p.m. start time makes for good counterprogramming to CBS’ older-skewing newsmag and gives them a jump on Fox. Plus, says Disney Telefilms president Charles Hirschhorn, ”I’m not sure the Disney kid is the same as the Simpsons kid.”