Disney Junior

Disney Channel has confirmed a launch date for its new 24-hour preschool channel. Disney Junior will replace SoapNet on most cable and satellite systems at midnight on Friday, March 23.

The new cable network, an offshoot of Disney Channel's Disney Junior block, will launch with the new animated series Doc McStuffins. That show, about a six-year-old girl who nurses her sick toys back to health, is one of several new programs that will make their debut on Disney Junior.

Among the other new shows coming to the channel over the next year: Gaspard and Lisa, which centers on two puppies in a French neighborhood; Guess How Much I Love You, based on the book of the same name; Sofia the First, a TV movie and series about a princess; and Oki's Oasis, a western about a kitty cat sheriff, voiced by Mandy Moore.

Disney Junior also plans a weekend movie night (dubbed the Magical World of Disney Junior) and will bring over its series of interstitials called A Poem Is... narrated by Laura Linney, Viola Davis, Jessica Alba, Owen Wilson and Liev Schreiber.

Current series Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins and Handy Manny will also run on Disney Junior. The channel joins an increasingly competitive preschool cable marketplace, where it will face off with Nick Jr., Sprout and Qubo, among others.

Disney Junior is already available in 28 other territories outside of the U.S. In launching the channel, Disney says it's broadening the focus from kids age 2-5 to kids 2-7 — a demo it calls "preschool plus." The company has also brought on a "council of academic advisors" to guide the channel's curriculum.

"This marks the beginning of a sea change in the 'preschool plus' television landscape," says Gary Marsh, president and CEO of Disney Channels Worldwide. "The response to our Disney Junior programming block has been extremely positive."

Some viewers will still receive SoapNet after March 22, the company said. "SoapNet will continue to have wide distribution for some time with many distributors choosing to carry both networks until such date as SoapNet fully sunsets," Disney says.

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