On January 25, 2002, the Disney Channel aired the Even Stevens episode “Influenza: The Musical.” In many ways, the network hasn’t been the same since then. The musical episode of this beloved show occurred at the end of its second season. As was customary of all Disney shows at the time, there would only be three seasons, but despite the sitcom’s short run, the show had a lasting impact. “Influenza” specifically proved to the channel’s executives that kids love a good musical and that the format would work for future sitcoms and original movies. After “Influenza,” the network followed suit with a musical episode of That’s So Raven, the original movie High School Musical in 2006, and its first sequel, which is their highest-rated original movie to date.
Premiering in mid-2000, Even Stevens came to be during the Zoog Disney era of the channel, a rebranding of the network that started in 1998 with shows like So Weird, The Famous Jett Jackson, and The Jersey, original movies like Brink and Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, and promos with little creatures called Zoogs that encouraged kids to get on the World Wide Web. In the midst of all this was Even Stevens.
Created by Matt Dearborn (who had previously co-produced The Secret World of Alex Mack on Nickelodeon), the show centered around Louis Stevens (Shia LaBeouf), a middle school goofball who’s part of a family of overachievers, such as his academically brilliant older sister Ren (Christy Carlson Romano), athletic superstar brother Donnie (Nick Spano), his senator mom Eileen (Donna Pescow), and lawyer father Steven (Tom Virtue). By the time the show pitched “Influenza” to Disney, execs were unsure a musical episode of a sitcom could work. Sure, they had music-centric shows like Kids Incorporated and The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in the late ’80s/early ’90s, but an entire sitcom turned musical wasn’t something they projected would garner much success.
We spoke with Even Stevens creator Matt Dearborn, producer and “Influenza” director Sean McNamara, executive producer David Brookwell, writer Jim Wise (who also played Coach Tugnut), composer John Coda, and actors Christy Carlson Romano, Lauren Frost (Ruby Mendel), A.J. Trauth (Alan Twitty), Nick Spano (Donnie Stevens), and Ty Hodges (Larry Beale) on the creation of Even Stevens, the making of “Influenza,” and its legacy.