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In 1996, Anne Sweeney was appointed to oversee The Disney Channel, and the channel began offering a nightly primetime film.

Outside of daytime programs for children, the network also aired movies and original specials (largely concert specials), largely during the nighttime hours.

Early in 1986, the musical sitcom Kids Incorporated, about a pre-teen (and later teen-to-young adult) gang of friends who formed a pop group, mixing their everyday situations with variety-show and music video style performances.

Soon after, other cable systems began to transition the channel to their basic tiers, either as an experiment or full-time.

Even as larger multiple system operators such as Cox Communications and Marcus Cable began to offer The Disney Channel on their basic tiers, Walt Disney Company executives continued to deny any plans to convert the channel to an ad-supported basic service, referring to the switches to basic on some systems as part of a five-year "hybrid" strategy; allowing providers to offer it as either a pay service or a basic service.

It was at this time that the channel started to increase its viewership.

Around this time, the channel began to shift its target audience more toward kids, but continued to cater to families at night.

Disney tried again in January 1983, planning a partnership with the satellite unit of Group W, though the deal never came to fruition.

In January 1983, the Disney Channel was formed under the leadership of its first president, Alan Wagner.

Though Disney Channel was no longer considered a premium channel, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association had long continued to rank the channel's subscriber base among all U. premium channels in its cable subscription total rankings rather than among basic cable networks (this total is now ranked in the NCTA's basic cable subscriber rankings).

On September 1, 1997, Disney Channel took on a revamped look and dropped the word "The" in the network's name (however, promos often referred to the channel as simply "Disney" and the logo often omitted the "Channel" in the network's name), and split the network into three programming blocks: Playhouse Disney, comprising shows aimed at preschoolers; Vault Disney, featuring classic Disney material such as Zorro, The Mickey Mouse Club, the Walt Disney anthology television series, older television specials and features such as The Love Bug; and the most distinct one, running from afternoon to late evening for teenagers, called Zoog Disney, which used anthropomorphic characters called "Zoogs", who resembled robots (but the Zoog characters were given human voices) as its hosts.

The channel specializes in television programming for children through original children's television series and movies, as well as third-party programming.

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