Girl Meets Cancellation: How the next generation of tween programming can change the media
Last week, the hit Disney Channel show Girl Meets World was canceled after only three seasons. Say it ain’t so! A spin off of the sitcom Boy Meets World, which ended in 2000, the series starred Rowan Blanchard as the titular girl, Riley, as she navigates school, friendships, and family. Ratings for the show had been steadily declining, yet its cancellation came as a surprise to many. With cast members from the original Boy Meets World making upcoming appearances — in addition to Danielle Fishel (Topanga) and Ben Savage (Cory), who are series regulars — it appeared that there was a renewed traction in the show via the always-useful nostalgia tactic.
It seems to not have been a complete surprise to Blanchard.
A major voice in the teen set, speaking out on a variety of social issues via Instagram, Twitter, and beyond, Blanchard took the chance to express her gratitude — and disappointment — via Instagram.
But Blanchard, no stranger to commentary, continues further on in the letter:
Why is this statement significant? For a few reasons.
First, Blanchard is directly calling out her employer, something Disney Channel stars have been wary to ever do until they are far beyond the ears of the mouse. Second, she is specifically calling out their content. Not their treatment of her, which through the reading of the rest of her letter sounds perfectly fine. Her issue seems to be with the material itself. Past Disney Channel stars have spent extensive tell-all interviews detailing their frustration with the house of mouse. But very few (if any) have mentioned their frustration with what they were producing.
The only one of recent memory is Zendaya, who returned to the Disney Channel in 2015 with KC Undercover. When speaking about the show, she discussed contributing to the diversity on the channel, a major factor in her return.
This move by Blanchard could be a major step in the right direction for a genre that has spent far too long in a laugh track hell.
Disney Channel has long had the specific brand of perky sitcoms. Their first original show, Flash Forward, doesn’t sound too far off from Girl Meets World: Two best friends navigating eighth grade. This plot line also sounds familiar to the forever-in-our-hearts Lizzie McGuire (can that get a reboot?).
Blanchard seems to be asking for something more than just the cookie cutter best friend plot.
Though the show has touched on important topics such as mental illness and cultural appropriation, Disney has long been hesitant to take steps down any controversial type of road. In 2014, they faced considerable backlash over their decision to feature a lesbian couple in Good Luck Charlie. Though the couple appeared for a total of 59 seconds, petitions were started and boycotts were begun. Since, Disney has been shy to broach the subject again, except in cartoon form, as a gay couple appeared in the animated series Gravity Falls. Nickelodeon, too, has been shy to approach these kinds of topics.
Major networks seem afraid of challenging their audience, but perhaps that shows how little they know about the audience they are entertaining.
Whereas once information might have been hard for that age group to get ahold of, in the age of smart phones, the world beyond them is just a click (or Snapchat) away.
It’s not about getting political; it’s about getting with the times.
These shows are intended to be educational — so it would make sense that they would be educating the viewers on the world we live in, right? But they don’t. How can creators forget that the kids and tweens watching these shows will one day be creators themselves?
Are they not seeking to inspire? Holding programming to a higher standard for that age group only creates a positive domino effect down the road.
It’s troubling, as the viewers seem to be outgrowing the content created for them faster and faster. Perhaps that is why so many tweens were drawn not to Girl Meets World, but to Blanchard herself.
Through personal action, she has shown how true representation and education can be presented to the age group that so adores her. She holds them to the highest standard, just as they hold her.
In calling out Disney Channel, Blanchard may be on the precipice of a wave of change in a network that has long stood stagnant. It is important her statements do not go unnoticed. It is time the bar is set higher for the demographic of programming.
It is time that, perhaps, girl meets the real world — preferably without a laugh track.