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April 19, 2014

Disney Channel's 'Jessie' breaks romantic ground

First time for a lead character on the kid's channel to become engaged

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The title character of "Jessie" heads in an unprecedented direction for a Disney Channel series: toward the altar.

In a four-episode arc that will conclude the season this fall, 22-year-old Jessie Prescott dives into a whirlwind romance and accepts her boyfriend's proposal of marriage.

It's the first time a lead character on the children's TV channel has become engaged, said Adam Bonnett, Disney Channel executive vice president of original programming.

"Jessie is an adult, and we felt we could tackle this in a way that still feels appropriate for our audience," Bonnett said. The Disney Channel focuses on children ages 6 to 11, with "Jessie" also attracting 9-to-14-year-old "tween" viewers among its average weekly audience of 2.9 million viewers.

It ranks among the top five series for children and younger teenagers, according to Nielsen company figures.

Debby Ryan stars as the young Texas woman who moves to New York City to pursue acting and becomes the nanny for an affluent family with children adopted from India, Africa and America. The comedy, in its third season, airs a mix of new and repeat episodes at 8 p.m. EDT Friday.

The budding relationship between Jessie and her new love, 25-year-old Brooks (Pierson Fode), is handled chastely, as befits a Disney project aimed at youngsters. The couple is shown bonding over picnics in Central Park and on movie dates and in other such innocent moments.

"The way we deal with this romance is very pure Disney fairy tale," Bonnett said, and one with a surprise ending.

Ryan, who will turn 21 on May 13, said she is far from tying the knot with her boyfriend of a year, Twenty One Pilots musician Josh Dun. Her focus is on her career, including directing her first episode of "Jessie" this season and finishing an album she plans to release in June.

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