Disney Junior's Diversity Rx

Disney Junior has yet to announce its official 2012 launch date, but the toddler-targeted network has already picked its programming starter when the network finally takes the field.

The first show toddlers and their parents will see on the 24-hour Disney Junior channel will be the network’s animated Doc McStuffins series, which revolves around Dottie “Doc” McStuffins, a six -year-old African-American girl who can communicate with and heal her sick and injured stuffed animals and toys from her backyard medical office, said Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of original programming and general manager, Disney Junior Worldwide.

The series, which was previewed during the startup network’s spring upfront presentation, will emphasize the importance of healthy living and taking care of others as well as yourself. “The show will be huge among moms because of the themes that it speaks to — what they deal with on a day to day basis regarding health issues,” Kanter told Multichannel News. “It gives moms something to help them with their children when it comes to not being afraid of the doctor or to recognize the importance of sun screen or to drink water on a hot day.”

Just as important to the network, the series will also reflect Disney desire to offer more diverse characters on air, particularly African-Americans. Disney’s 2009 animated theatrical movie The Princess in The Frog prominently featured an African-American princess, and now Disney Junior’s animated Doc McStuffins will offer an African-American girl and her family as lead characters.

“We’ve had Handy Mandy which featured Hispanic characters, but we didn’t have a series that featured African-Americans,” Kanter said. “For us that was really important – we wanted to make sure we really felt inclusive and represented variety and diversity in the kids world. It was just perfect that Doc McStuffins was created that way and could be our key launch property for the channel.”

Along with Doc McStuffins, Disney Junior – which will launch sometime in first quarter 2012 in place of SoapNet channel — will feature a mix of acquired movies and shows from its sister network Disney Channel’s Disney Junior morning block (formerly Playhouse Disney), as well as new original series. The network is also considering resurrecting older former Playhouse Disney series like Higglytown Heroes and Jo Jo’s Circus, which the network hopes will appeal to a new generation of young viewers.

“When we were Playhouse Disney we produced a lot of shows, but since we were just a block we retired a lot of shows sooner that we would normally,” she said. “We’re going to look back at some of the things that we really feel still have life in it and see if that can appeal to an entirely different audience.”