The Disney Channel is set to expand what is inarguably its most lucrative franchise ever with the airing of High School Musical 2 tonight (Friday) -- as well as Saturday, Sunday and next Thursday. For the most part, critics agree that the sequel to what became a billion-dollar TV phenomenon last year -- launching hit records (the soundtrack was last-year's best-selling album) and DVDs, a novelization that landed at No. 1 on the New York Timesbest-seller list, clothing and product lines, and a touring stage show -- is a slicker version of the original. Scott L. Powers in the Chicago Tribune calls it "a charmer." In the Philadelphia Inquirer,Karen Heller describes it as "utterly watchable, harmless and, to a certain portion of the population, irresistible." One young viewer who watched it with her called it the "best movie ever." "Maybe Disney finally built a better mousetrap," Doug Elfmanremarks in the Chicago Sun-Times.Forget about plot -- there's not much of one -- "thankfully," writes David Kronke in the Los Angeles Daily News. "It's usually too busy setting up yet another musical set piece to wow you. And the spirited cast gives it all they have to ensure a pleasant time is had by all." Mary McNamara begins her review in the Los Angeles Timesby pronouncing the sequel "better than the first one." She continues "What this will mean for the Disney Channel, the history of musical theater, the state of cable television or the future of the world as we know it remains to be seen. But High School Musical 2 is zippier, bouncier, prettier, more soulful and even more musical than its predecessor, and that's saying something." Only Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times among the major TV newspaper critics, refuses to join the chorus of kudos for the movie (although she does praise the songs). Braving the wrath of "tweens," Stanley writes: "There's only so much cutesiness a sane adult can stand close-up, even given how bitter that adult inevitably sounds when bashing a successful commercial venture."


The season finale of Fox's So You Think You Can Dance danced away with ratings honors Wednesday as the two-hour show averaged a 6.4 rating and an 11 share, peaking in the 9:30 p.m. half-hour with a 7.4/12. (Surprisingly it was the top-rated show in each of the half hours except the final one, when it was edged out in the overall ratings by a repeat of CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Among adults 18-49, however, it was an overpowering winner in each time period.


In what some Hollywood observers regard as part of a plan to meld GE's Universal and NBC businesses, Universal's historic Stage 1, which had been used most recently to house the permanent sets for ABC's Desperate Housewives, is due to be torn down and eventually reconstructed as an NBC television theater with audience seats for the Tonightshow and possibly other variety programs, according to the Hollywood Today website. The state-of-the-art digs may also help lure Conan O'Brien to the West Coast when he takes over the Tonightshow from Jay Leno in two years, the report said. The reconstruction, which is due to be augmented with a four-story office complex, is expected to be completed in about a year and a half. A studio spokesman said that no decision has been made to move NBC's current studio and office facilities in what the Laugh-Inbunch once mocked as "beautiful downtown Burbank" to the Universal City complex. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Desperate Housewives,complimented Universal for the way it relocated sets from Stage 1 to a different -- and larger -- stage. "It is never easy to move permanent sets and therefore there was initial disappointment and hesitancy," the spokesman told Hollywood Today, "but because it was handled so well we are very happy to have made the change."


Sony has announced plans to launch a massive recycling program throughout the United States in which consumers will be able to drop off old Sony TV sets and other Sony electronics items without charge. The company said that plans call for setting up about 175 recycling centers and hopes to see all of its electronics products returned there at the end of their lives. "For every pound of new product we put into the market, we want to take a pound back," Sony VP Mark Swall told Broadcasting & Cablemagazine. The company said that it will also accept old consumer-electronics items from other manufacturers for an as-yet-undecided fee.