Disney Channel's High School Musical 2rocked the ratings Friday night, drawing an enormous 17.2 million viewers -- the most for any basic-cable telecast ever and nearly 10 million more than the original movie in January, according to preliminary ratings from Nielsen Media Research.
The sequel also drew the most kids of any telecast ever on broadcast or cable, with 6.1 million, and stands as TV's second-most-watched entertainment telecast with tweens 9-14, behind the 2004 Super Bowl.
The musical comedy, which ran from 8 p.m.-10 p.m. on the non-ad-supported network, beat out by 8% cable's previous record-holder with total viewers, a Sept. 23 Monday Night Football game on ESPN, which drew 16 million.
HSM2 was also TV's most-viewed Friday-night telecast in more than five years and ranks as cable's most-viewed original film ever, beating TNT's 2001 flick, Crossfire Trail, by about 2 million viewers, or 38%.
While Disney had a built-in fan base for the movie after the enormous success of the original, the network helped to shore up even more interest by unrolling a slew of ancillary programming to promote HSM2, launching online games, streaming music, a docu-musical, a public-affairs program, mobile messages and a televised backyard barbecue hosted by the show's stars.
The original High School Musical became not just a ratings blockbuster, but an international superstar for Disney after it premiered to a then-huge 7.73 million total viewers in January, spawning a soundtrack that topped both the Billboard Hot 200 album chart and iTunes for weeks. The movie also became the first full-length feature to be offered on iTunes and the stage adaptation was developed by Disney Theatrical Productions.
HSM2 catapulted the rest of Disney's Friday-night programming to record-breaking ratings, too. A 15-minute preview of upcoming original series Phineas and Ferb, which followed the movie at 10:05 p.m., drew the network's second-largest audience ever with total viewers, 10.8 million, and kids 6-11, 4.2 million.
Following that, at 10:20 p.m., an original episode of Disney's already-popular series, Hannah Montana, posted basic cable's biggest-ever audience for a series telecast, with 10.7 million total viewers and 4.2 million kids 6-11. Both Phineas and Hannah drew 4.1 million tweens 9-14.
While an HSM3 is being written for theatrical release, Disney is hoping to keep the franchise strong through a fall documentary about the making of its stage production. High School Musical: The Music in You will be produced by documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple, who tracked the month-long process of Texas students from rival high schools who produced a stage show based on the movie. Disney will also run interstitials about the process online, on the radio and on TV.
The network is also planning a public-affairs initiative in partnership with the NAMM Foundation to help provide theater grants to middle- and high-school students. The NAMM Foundation and Disney's High School Musical Grant will cover licensing costs involved in putting on school stage shows and cash grants for arts teaching.