Mickey Mouse ClubThe Mickey Mouse Club was the first Walt Disney foray into television programming that specifically utilized the Disney brand. The show was on every afternoon after school, and starred 39 pre-teen caucasian boys and girls, supervised by two grown-up hosts. In its original four-year run, over 360 episodes were made. The show had the usual Fifties variety-show format: a couple song-and-dance numbers, a cartoon or two, and a serialized short about the Hardy Boys.
The hosts were bright-eyed Jimmy Dodd and dirty-old-man Roy Williams, nicknamed Moose, a former animator whom Disney himself had tapped for the show. Roy was the one who thought that Mickey Mouse should tip his ears in greeting to Minnie Mouse, spawning one of the most recognizable pieces of Disney shwag, those embroidered mouse-ear beanies. Jimmy and Roy were only three years apart in age, but the boy from Cincinnati couldn't be less like his Bukowski-esque counterpart. Roy really stands out in old photos of the cast: fat, balding, with a toothy aw-gawrsh grin, peeking over heads in the back row of a group shot, or standing off to the side as the kids squirmed in the spotlight. Backstage, Roy kept an eye on the girls and graced the boys with a few ribald anecdotes now and then. When no-one was looking, he'd take a quick pull from his flask, then tell one of the kids to stash it for him.
After the show went into syndication in 1959, a handful of the old cast members parlayed their childhood success into forgettable careers, including famed Multiple Sclerosis sufferer Annette Funicello and Gallery model Doreen Tracy (pictured below). The show resurfaced in 1977 as The New Mickey Mouse Club with much the same format as before, festooned with a mélange of multicultural Mouseketeers to dither the previously all-white cast. In spite of these hand-outs to a newly-miscegenated middle America, ratings floundered, and after two seasons the show was scrapped.
Inexplicably the Mickey Mouse Club was reincarnated a second time in 1989, this time gussied up with the oversaturated lime and fuschia pantones that had won MTV its own slab of market share back in 1981. Where during the previous two runs emphasis had been placed on the kids and their individual talents, the new show displayed stronger choreography, tighter pacing, and a soundtrack tuned for a more discerning youth market. The show was only available on Disney's new cable channel, The Disney Channel, which was previewed annually on most cable providers for a couple weeks in the summer and fall in order to get kids to whine subscriptions out of their parents.
What Nickelodeon did for basic cable signups, The Disney Channel did for premium programming: that is, it gave kids an honest, grassroots alternative to the high-brow panderings of PBS' Sesame Street and daytime network soaps. The channel originally began by mining old Disney movies and cartoons for programming; when name-recognition alone failed to net the desired mob of subscribers, Disney turned to its old television ventures for ideas.
The New New Mickey Mouse Club, now called simply MMC, was just another of these swings in the dark. Once again, America's youth proved it still wasn't ready for the time-honored variety show format, despite its hip, urban streamlinings. The show went off the air, seemingly for good, in 1994, having survived just long enough for future overnight sensation Britney Spears to turn 11 and join the cast for a couple years. (Britney had auditioned once before when she was 8, but was turned down on account of her age).
Recent ex-Mouseketeer success stories like Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the cast of N'Sync have had lesser luminaries in MMC's third-run pantheon all biting their pillows wondering who will be next to "jump the shark". Largely a motley crew of back-up dancers, Broadway extras, and make-up artists, it's hard to tell from the headshots and résumés alone which ones have it. If they've learned anything from previous generations of child stars however, one hopes that they will skip the embarassing meth overdose and bo-tox fiasco and go straight into politics.