Disney Channel’s A.N.T. Farm
Writer Dan Signer gives CS the scoop on A.N.T. Farm: the new season means new enhANTsments
by Lisa Horan
When Disney Channel execs approached Writer Dan Signer (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and The Suite Life on Deck) about creating an original series, Signer was, of course, delighted. While he was exploring the creative direction of the show, he was presented with an unexpected gift that would ultimately drive the show’s concept: China Anne McClain. Executives believed the talented 11-year-old exhibited undeniable star power. Signer couldn’t have agreed more. After meeting with McClain and discovering that she not only had an incredible confidence that far exceeded her young age, but also a fantastic singing voice, Signer decided to create a sitcom that would capitalize on both. What resulted was a show based around a musical prodigy (Chyna Parks) who is taking part in a program designed for middle school-aged children with exceptional talents: the Advanced Natural Talents (A.N.T.) program.
When the show launched, two premises were working in tandem with each other: kids with extraordinary abilities and middle school-aged kids in a high school setting. But real kids do this weird thing over time—especially during their adolescent years—they change. And, with that, the basic structure of the show had to change with them. In this case, change meant not only a new setting, but also the addition of some new characters (and the departure of some old favorites), along with a brand new premise.
“The original dual premise of the show worked great when the kids were 12, but by the time Season 3 rolled around, all of the kids had pretty much reached high school age, so they had outgrown it by that point.” To meet the change, Signer decided the focus should be more on the children’s talents, so he had to figure out a way to bring them front and center. What better way than a boarding school designed for the exceptionally gifted?
“At the start of Season 3, we’re introduced to a former child prodigy turned a tech billionaire, who discovers the kids in the A.N.T. program and then builds a world-class school for prodigies. The school is basically designed to help them flourish while protecting them from the ‘normal’ people,” explains Signer. “What’s great about this is that it still serves a dual premise—kids with extra-special abilities and now kids living away from home.” In fact, Signer says the new premise lends itself to a variety of relatable stories that helps viewers—who typically range from the age of 6 to 14—imagine what it’s like to be away from home, and that concept really seems to be resonating with fans.
In addition to the introduction of some boy-girl relationship-based storylines (at Disney speed, that is), Season 3 promises to continue offering the wild and zany plots that fans have grown to love. Signer reports that we’ll see some fun musical performances from Chyna, including an episode featuring her singing a J-pop song in Japanese with full Anime hair and makeup, a Halloween episode that will take place in an alternate universe with a rift erupting between the A.N.T.s and the mutants, and a very unique take on the future that actually transports Chyna back in time. “The Disney Channel wanted all of the shows to focus on a future theme, so in keeping with our effort to bend the unexpected, we thought we’d deal with the future by taking Chyna back to the ’80s.”
Additions and Casualties of Change
What we’re not going to see—or rather, whom we’re not going to see in Season 3—are several recurring characters from the past two seasons. In particular, Cameron Parks (Carlon Jeffery), Chyna’s brother on the show, will not be a regular this season. “It was really tough, and we were all pretty bummed, but Cameron didn’t fit into the new dual premise because he wasn’t a kid with extraordinary abilities and he was family, so he was an unfortunate casualty of the premise,” says Signer. Cameron, along with Principal Skidmore and Paisley, who were also victims of the new premise, will each come back to make guest appearances this season.
On the flip side, one of the most exciting events of the season was a guest appearance by Hollywood heavyweight, Chris Rock. The funny man made the appearance because of his connection to McClain through Grown Ups 2, which the two actors both starred in. (Grown Ups 2 co-star Adam Sandler appeared on Jessie.) “Having Chris Rock on set was fantastic. He was super funny and a super nice guy. What was really interesting to see was his reaction to China. When they shot the first Grown Ups, China had a smaller part in the movie and she was still relatively unknown at the time, but now she’s a huge star to kids, so while we were all anxious for Chris to come out of hair and makeup and do the show, he was excited to see China, and he was recording the show with his phone for his daughters. It was a really cool thing.”
Though the season of A.N.T. Farm is marked by change, one element that will continue to play a big role in the show is music. Signer says, like before, music will be used in many of the episodes in one form or another. “Music falls into two categories on the show—pop songs, which are written by seasoned pop music writers and producers and are written to get radio airplay, and comedy songs, which we write the lyrics for, ourselves.” Signer says Disney will request a certain number of China’s songs be used in a season (she has a record deal with Hollywood Records, which is owned by Disney), but even so, he tries to look for episodes in which the music will fit in a natural way. “I don’t want her to just sing a song for no reason, so we really try to create a way for the songs to fit in with the episodes as best as possible,” says Signer.
This season, for instance, Chyna’s audition piece that’s used for her to get into the new school is one of McClain’s Hollywood Records pop songs. “We talk to Disney about what thematically we would like to song to accomplish, and we try to make the music we use organic to the story.” And speaking of organic, one of the lessons Signer has learned from his experience as a writer for kids’ shows is to always keep it real. “There’s a danger in writing down to little kids or trying to be cool and cutting edge. Kids see through that and wind up thinking it’s dorky. Authenticity is really important with kids. I don’t think you can try to make a show cool. You have to let kids make something cool on their own. Otherwise, they just won’t be interested,” says Signer.
While Signer believes that writing tween sitcoms is even harder than writing for adult sitcoms because of the restrictions on language and content, at the end of the day, funny is funny, no matter what the demographic.
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