The Disney Channel's efforts to wring every last ounce of profit out of the "High School Musical" franchise is admirable from a business perspective, but the latest spin-off, "High School Musical: The Music in You" (9 p.m. MST Sunday), is an odd, vestigial project.
This half-hour documentary chronicles the staging of "High School Musical" by a high-school theater company in Texas, but at a mere 30 minutes, the program speeds through casting, rehearsals and opening night at a breakneck pace. Few of the kids featured leave much of an impression.
Disney Channel has been airing short interstitials about the process of mounting this stage production for several months, so regular Disney Channel viewers may feel more of a connection to these teens. But for anyone coming in cold, watching "The Music in You" is like seeing a docu-reality show on fast-forward.
This is particularly disappointing when you consider "The Music in You" was made by Barbara Kopple, an Oscar-winning filmmaker ("Harland County, USA," "American Dream"). At a Disney Channel press conference last summer, Kopple had a simple response for why she got involved in the project: "I'm nuts. No, I couldn't resist doing it. I love doing films about kids."
A Disney Channel spokeswoman said this is the third documentary Kopple has made for the network and each has been a half-hour.
"Working in conjunction with the filmmaker, we evaluate each property individually, and we select a form and format that is appropriate to the story we want to tell," the spokeswoman said.
But after watching "The Music in You," it felt like I saw a highlight reel, not the whole story.
As in "HSM," the kids involved in staging this production come from different cliques, including an athlete who doesn't appear to be a theater geek, just like Troy (Zac Efron) in the original "HSM" movie.
The lead roles in the stage show are double-cast, with two sets of actors for different performances. One of the boys playing Troy gets cut, but the whole thing is so rushed it's not entirely clear what he did wrong other than not sing during a duet rehearsal.
At last summer's press conference, Adam Sanderson, senior vice president of brand marketing for the Disney ABC Networks Group, said "The Music in You" was not intended to be a reality show.
"The goal was to do some programming that would spotlight what's going on at the grass-roots level and inspire kids," he said, "(so that) if they're shy or they're interested in going out for theater or for band or choir or cheerleading, to give them that little extra push because they'll see real kids on Disney Channel doing the same thing."
That's admirable, but wouldn't it do more good to create a better, more comprehensive TV program than the one that airs Sunday night?