When you think of the Disney Channel, you think of names like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez. Disney realized a long time ago that creating the next teen icon was far more profitable than focusing on sitcom-related content. To say that the Disney Channel of the late 2000s was radically different from the Disney Channel that preceded it 10 years earlier would be a criminal understatement on the levels of claiming that you aren’t as bangable as Olivia Munn.
In the summer of 1998, Disney Channel rebranded in an effort to compete with rival children networks Nickelodeon & Cartoon Network. This era of Disney Channel was known as “Zoog Disney”.
Zoog Disney launched numerous live-action sitcoms and movies aimed towards a young teenage audience. What made Zoog Disney so exciting was that the shows produced during that era had a true diversity of content.
Heading into the new millennium, Disney went wild with a massive influx of original television content and as well as made for television movies in an effort to tap into a market not yet occupied by their competitors.
Late 90s Disney Channel was the last of a dying breed of live-action content that was aimed towards younger audiences but with content that was anything but childish. Zoog Disney greenlit some pretty wild ideas (We will discuss this more when we talk about Disney’s ‘The Jersey’).
The perfect example of this was 1999’s ‘So Weird’.
‘So Weird’ was a show about a 14 year old girl named Fiona played by Cara Delizia. Fiona’s mother Molly Phillips (Mackenzie Phillips) is a famous musician and they would travel around the country on a tour bus playing gigs in strange locations.
While music is a theme of the show, the focus was on Fiona’s adventure with the paranormal. Fiona would travel around small town America getting into mishaps with vampires, ghosts, aliens, and even Demons.
So Weird was a very unique show for its time. For many kids, it was their introduction to the world of sci-fi and horror. The show was also one of the first of its kind to utilize the internet as a plot device in the days before right before the dot com crash.
No children’s show went into the depth of the Horror genre than So Weird did. The 90s was simply a different (and better) time for creative freedom. Goosebumps was a book series that popularized the horror genre for kids, scary but nothing that gave kids nightmares. It was an addictive series of stories that made children want to check out the next book.
So Weird captured a similar audience but tried to take the level of horror a step further in the realm of television. In the episode entitled ‘Blues’ Fiona’s family travels to Mississippi to perform at a famous Blues music hall and uncovers a cold case murder where a blues musician murdered one of his former friends and stole his music in order to reach fame. The episode was one of the best examples of the show’s ability to mix music, mystery, and paranormal activity in a way that few shows have done in the last 22 years.
Most fans at the time had no idea that Henry Winkler was an executive producer of the show and even starred in one of the episodes entitled Boo which took place in a New England town where the dead came back to life for one night only.
It is hard to believe that the same network that created Sonny With A Chance was even involved with this project, but So Weird was a show that went out of its way to stand out from your average children’s show. The show tackled issues such as death, grief, classic horror lore, occultism, and extraterrestrial phenomenons. The theme of the show was very much “question everything but rule out nothing”.
In the early stages of Disney Channel Original Programming, Disney operated with a 65 episode limit for all of their content, a rule that remained in place until 2004 when the Disney Channel show “That’s So Raven” was extended to a 100 episode order. So Weird lasted 65 episodes between three seasons but the third season was the one that not only divided the fanbase but the network itself.
Head writer and showrunner Jon Cooksey was interviewed in a So Weird themed podcast where he stated that the season-two finale was altered at the request of Disney which led to a domino effect that tanked the show. In the episode entitled ‘Twin’, the original plan for the episode would have shown an evil spirit pushing Fi’s dead father off the roof, causing him to disappear into a black portal below.
Cooksey said his original vision for season three would have sent Fi’s father back to relive the moment of his greatest loss for all of eternity, that is until Fi descended into this particular Hell based in memory to save him. In other words, Fi was literally going to travel to Hell itself in order to save her dad.
Upon learning of this plan, Disney reshot the finale to steer the show in a lighter direction. This led to the departure of Cooksey and the main star Cara Delizia for the final season. Delizia was replaced by Actress Alexz Johnson (who also starred in the Canadian teen show “Instant Star”) for the final season.
The 3rd season of So Weird is the worst received season by fans who were upset at the change of direction along with the new lead actress. So Weird ended in a whimper, leaving most fanatics to view the first 39 episodes as the true heart and soul of the series.
The reason why So Weird stands the test of time compared to other Disney Channel shows is that the show never treated its audience like kids. The content of the show was something you would see on a network aimed towards adults and the writers never dumbed down its material for its viewers.
The show ended production in the year 2000 and episodes of the show aired on Disney Channel until 2003. For 16 years, Disney kept So Weird in the vault, refusing to show any reruns of the show like it never existed. The creative direction of the network had changed so much, shows like So Weird no longer had a place on Disney’s platform.
Those who grew up in the late 90s felt like foreign nationals in the world of the modern era of the network they grew up watching. For years, fans of the show have relied on platforms such as Youtube and Dailymotion to relive the glory of what the show was. Disney wouldn’t even release the show on DVD despite a sizable online fanbase who wanted the physical media.
It wasn’t until Disney put the show on their streaming platform Disney Plus, nearly 16 years later that fans got to see any episodes shown on their platform.
So Weird was a show that captured an entire generation with a legacy of a show so dark that the final season got nerfed by its own network. So Weird was a perfect example of what the 90s was as a decade, an era of creative rebellion. An era that was taken from us and sadly will never be repeated.
While the history of the Disney Channel will always be synonymous with teenage pop stars and idols, ‘So Weird’ stands the test of time as one of the greatest television shows in the history of Disney.
The only regret after 23 years remains how much better the show could have been if the writers were able to end it on their terms?
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