Research about cable's highest-rated entertainment show in 2008 revealed some complaints television executives rarely see about their programs — not enough s'mores, bonfires and water fights.
The made-for-TV movie was Disney Channel's wildly successful " Camp Rock," which starred Disney darlings the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato and drew an impressive audience of 10 million viewers. Audiences enjoyed the show, they just wanted more of the joy and antics of a typical summer camp experience.
As "Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam" premieres Friday — and then takes over the network for the Labor Day weekend with singalongs, dance-alongs, cast interviews and encores airing through Monday night — consider the s'mores situation solved.
"Something had been gnawing at me about the first movie, even though it was a hit," said Disney Channel Entertainment President Gary Marsh, who ordered the audience research about the original program. "I just felt like we could do it better and bolder. We had a first chance to make a second impression."
A sequel was even easier to support considering Lovato and the Jonas Brothers, stars of regular Disney Channel shows and hugely successful recording artists, had grown even more popular in the teen and tween universe since the original launched. They'd be given more well-developed parts — Lovato's character steps up as a leader, for instance, and Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas would have individual stories instead of being perpetually attached at the hip.
"It was so much bigger this time, with scenes that felt like there were 100 dancers, where the first movie had 12 or 15," said Kevin Jonas, the oldest of the performing trio at 22. "My brothers and I didn't have to do too much dancing, though, which is a good thing. Trust me."
The network recruited writer Dan Berendsen, a veteran of Disney Channel hits such as "Wizards of Waverly Place The Movie" and " Hannah Montana The Movie," and hired "American Idol" judge and songwriter Kara DioGuardi and "America's Best Dance Crew" choreographer Rosero McCoy to give the project a creative boost.
Taking a page from their own playbook, executives decided to make "Camp Rock 2" more like "High School Musical," a billion-dollar franchise that relies on pop hooks and modern settings but draws from an old Hollywood tradition of having characters burst into song at the drop of a hat. And the new movie broadens its musical taste from strictly pop influences, adding folk, classic rock and hip-hop.
Where the original "Camp Rock" served as a canned performance platform for the Jonas Brothers, "Camp Rock 2" looks more like an elaborate music video, with Lovato and dozens of her fellow "campers" singing and dancing around specially built sets near Toronto.
The first "Camp Rock" had served as the Jonas Brothers' acting debut, but they've since starred in a Disney Channel series that's in its second hit season.
"We're falling in love with acting," Kevin Jonas said from Detroit this week where the group was scheduled to play a concert, with Lovato and other "Camp Rock" stars in the opening act. "We get to play a version of ourselves — a heightened reality —and really have fun with it."
Kevin Jonas, who got married last year, plays a "Camp Rock" counselor who herds the youngest campers, including his own little brother, Frankie. Nick and Joe get romantic storylines — Nick's character falls for a girl from the rival performing-arts camp across the lake, which has some non-tragic "Romeo and Juliet" overtones, and Joe's Shane is smitten with Lovato's Mitchie. In keeping with the chaste Disney Channel standards and the Jonas' own purity ring-wearing morals, the contact between boys and girls is minimal. Puppy love is allowed, but groping's verboten.
The channel airs a half-dozen original movies a year, which Marsh calls "our Super Bowls," with aggressive marketing pushes from a number of Walt Disney Co. divisions, like Radio Disney and Hollywood Records. The "Camp Rock 2" soundtrack has already been released, and the DVD, with additional scenes, will hit shelves Tuesday.
Disney is particularly good at building long-term brands that catch fire with youngsters and don't offend their parents, said Gary Lico, president and chief executive of CableU.tv, a firm that analyzes programming trends.
Song-and-dance entertainment has become firmly rooted in pop culture, with hits like "Glee," "Step Up," "So You Think You Can Dance" and the "High School Musical" franchise, he said. "Camp Rock," already a known entity, could join that list.
"A lot of kids have just come from summer camp, so they can relate," Lico said. "And music is so important to this age group. A movie like 'Camp Rock' speaks to a generation."