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No big brouha-'Hannah'

5/02/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Hannah Montana
and series star Miley Cyrus will continue to have a strong on-air presence on Disney Channel despite last week's uproar over Cyrus's controversial Vanity Fair pictures.

The controversy threatened to damage the Hannah Montana franchise, which produces an estimated $1 billion per year for The Walt Disney Co. However, to avoid any further controversies, Disney executives said they will have a greater presence in Cyrus's future press endeavors.

Disney last night (May 4) was scheduled to air a new episode of Hannah Montana in which the 15-year-old Cyrus — who came under fire for posing seductively for a Vanity Fair
pictorial that hit newsstands last week — plays an everyday teen who doubles as a pop-music superstar.

Cyrus was also scheduled to perform this weekend in Orlando, Fla., as part of the network's “Disney Channel Games” event, which will air later this summer, said Disney/ABC Television Group senior vice president of kids' communications Patti McTeague.

As for the Vanity Fair shoot, McTeague said no Disney representative was present during the shooting. She added, however, that going forward, the network will be involved in all of Cyrus's dealings with the press.

“For all press matters, it will be a collaboration and a partnership from this point forward,” McTeague said. “She's part of our family, and that's important to us.”

McTeague also said the network has no plans to alter the airing of Hannah Montana episodes on the air in light of the controversy. Five original episodes that have aired thus far during the popular series' third season, averaging 4.9 million viewers. The May 4 episode featured Brooke Shields in her recurring role as Hannah's deceased mother.

While Cyrus's Vanity Fair pictures have generated a lot of press coverage, Katz Television Media Group vice president and director of programming Bill Carroll doesn't believe the controversy will adversely affect viewership for Hannah Montana.

“I don't know that you can figure out what the public is going to ultimately decide with any certainty, but my sense is [Disney's] core audience has already moved on,” he said. “It's also sad to say, but controversy — if it isn't unbelievably negative — can actually boost ratings.”

Indeed, Jamie Lynn Spears's controversial pregnancy revelation last December didn't keep viewers from tuning into her popular Nickelodeon series Zoey 101. The show's season debut pulled in more than 6 million viewers and through April 13 the series is averaging 3.5 million viewers.

The new Hannah Montana episode debuts amidst a decline in April ratings for the tween-targeted channel. Disney drew 2.1 million viewers for the period of March 31 to April 27, a 4% decline from the 2.2 million viewers the network averaged for the same period last year.

The network also posted a 16% decline in its core 9-14 age group, averaging 760,000 tween viewers compared to 864,000 the year prior.

McTeague said taping for the fourth season of Hannah Montana will begin later this summer. In addition, Disney Channel has several major projects set to launch later this year including its June original movie Camp Rock and its summer Cheetah Girls 3 original film.

 

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