TORRANCE, Calif. — Hannah Montana and Sonny With a Chance have made the Disney Channel a lure for young female viewers. But what about young males?
The company is looking to cable channel Disney XD, a revamped version of the Toon Disney cable channel, to reach boys 6-14 years old.
The channel’s newest series, Zeke and Luther, starts tonight. It joins live-action series Aaron Stone and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, plus animated fare such as Spider-man, Iron Man and X-Men, in the quest to reach young male viewers.
Zeke and Luther follows two best friends who have decided they want to become world-famous skateboarders. Their quest means mastering complicated tricks, entering competitions and taking a road trip to their idol Tony Hawk’s childhood home.
An abandoned newspaper building in this Southern California community is home base for the show, where the cast and crew recently worked on upcoming episodes, including a scene featuring a collision between a pair of skateboarders and a large bus.
“Cut! Great. That was really good but I would like to do one more,” says director and series co-creator Matt Dearborn to Hutch Dano and Adam Hicks as they rise from the pavement. The stars of Zeke and Luther smile and return to their prone position near the bus.
The bus scene is for the last episode for the show’s first season. The cast and crew have been tolling away for months, not knowing whether the show will be a hit or a miss with the coveted young male audience.
The show’s creators do have some sense of what works. Dearborn, along with Tom Burkhard, created the hit Disney series Even Stevens.
“There has been a lot of pressure because you are just trusting all of your instincts and if your instincts aren’t in line with the general public you are bound to make a bigger mistake,” says Burkhard. “But, I am pretty confident what we have going is a really funny, real kid friendly, action-packed comedy.
“It is about putting funny kids in front of the camera.”
They’re putting those kids in front of cameras far away from the Hollywood hub.
Many of the sets, along with the show’s production offices, are located in what was once the home for the city’s Daily Breeze newspaper. It’s been a perfect location because the building is large enough to house the production, plus the show has been able to shoot in various local locations in the neighborhood.
More important than finding the location was picking just the right cast, especially for the characters of Zeke and Luther.
“Comedy aside, skating aside, stunts aside, it is a show about friendship. These guys will be on opposite sides of an issue but in the end friendship will always come through,” Burkhard says.
Before the cameras roll again, Dearborn discusses with Dano a last-minute change for the scene. This is Dano’s first professional acting job but he’s well aware of how the business works. His grandfather, Royal Dano, was an actor. And his father, Rick Dano, a veteran actor, is playing the bus driver in this episode.
Between scenes, Dano talks about the long process of landing the job.
“It was about three or four auditions and then chemistry tests with Adam Hicks and other people going up for Luther,” Dano says. “I got the call that I had booked it. Then we shot the pilot, they tested it and we finally got picked up. It was the greatest thing.”
It helped that Dano brought some skateboarding skills to the role. The surfing enthusiasts like to skateboard when the waves aren’t right. So, whenever the pair are seen on the street they are doing their own stunts. When it comes to the more elaborate tricks — any time the skateboard leaves the ground — the insurance company prefers that stunt doubles are used.
Even with those limitations, Hicks calls the role “the greatest job that has ever been created. We come to work and do what we love to do: acting, skateboarding. We are never bored.”
Unlike his co-star, Hicks has been acting for years including a role on the series Titus. He was also in The Shaggy Dog and How to Eat Fried Worms.
Whether they get back on their boards to grind out another season will depend on how many young male viewers find the new series as much fun.