EXCLUSIVE: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series was among the highlights at Disney’s recent presentation unveiling Disney+, its upcoming direct-to-consumer platform. HSM, one of only two Disney Channel originals for Disney+ showcased at the presentation and the only original series, is undergoing a behind-the-scene change. Showrunner Oliver Goldstick is departing after the first phase of production, I have learned.
Additionally, I’ve learned that Sulphur Springs, a Disney Channel-produced series for Disney+ which had been casting with a blinking series greenlight, is no longer at the streaming platform. It continues casting, but as a pilot for Disney Channel.
These changes are indicative of some of the growing pains associated with a new VOD service homing in on its identity and a cable network in-house studio which has never produced for anyone else but its own Disney Channel network.
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Written/executive by Tracey Thomson and executive produced by Charles Pratt, Sulphur Springs was originally developed as a potential pilot for Disney Channel. At some point, the project that is described as a Stranger Things-like supernatural drama for the younger set, was pitched to Disney+. Its development team liked it, and gave it a cast-contingent series order. A director was hired and the project — about a boy and his family moving into a supposedly haunted hotel on the edge of a small town called Sulphur Springs — entered pre-production. But after a months-long casting search did not yield results, Disney+ opted not to go forward with the series. Pre-production was paused and it returned to Disney Channel. Casting continues for the project, which will be a pilot for the kids-focused network. I hear two roles have just been filled.
The High School Musical; The Musical: The Series pilot was written by Tim Federle (Ferdinand). Before start of production, veteran showrunner, former Pretty Little Liars EP Oliver Goldstick, came on board as showrunner, executive producing alongside Federle.
I hear Goldstick exited the series over creative differences. The series remains in production, currently filming the fifth episode of its 10-episode order. According to sources, Goldstick — who has worked on such series as PLL, the CW’s Life Sentence and ABC’s Ugly Betty — wanted to tackle more adult themes on the show. Disney+ is being touted as very family-oriented service; its High Fidelity series reboot starring Zoë Kravitz recently moved to Hulu because the project had evolved creatively into more adult subject matter.
After the pilot episode of the new series was shot, it was evaluated and tested, leading to a decision to make creative changes. They involve shooting some brand new material: new music is being added, and one scene is being adjusted.
Set at the real-life East High, where the original movie was filmed, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series follows a group of students as they prepare for opening night of their school’s first-ever production of High School Musical.
At the Disney presentation last month, Disney Channels Worldwide president/CEO Gary Marsh acknowledged daunting the task of reinventing Disney Channel’s biggest original movie franchise.
“I spent ten years trying to develop a new take on High School Musical that was worthy of remaking this classic, something that new fans and our original fans can appreciate and watch together,” he said. “It turns out it is harder than it seems to get that community together but we finally cracked it with The High School Musical; The Musical: The Series. It has a comic tone and texture that is simultaneously familiar to fans and yet quite a departure probably from what those fans are expecting.”
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series was one of two Disney Channel originals for Disney+ announced at the presentation last month, along with a Phineas and Ferb movie. According to sources, Disney Channel has pitched dozens of projects to Disney+ to date, and there is another movie nearing a green light.
Additionally, Disney+ will feature 5,000 episode of Disney Channel and Disney Jr. series and 100 original movies at launch.
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