Friday, June 10, 2005

Dancing With The Stars Is More Fun Than It Should Be

ABC's Dancing With The Stars (Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. EDT) should not be fun to watch. The premise is so silly I almost didn't believe it would really happen. A group of C-list celebrities team up with professional ballroom dancers and compete against each other. Tom Bergeron (of America's Funniest Home Videos) and Lisa Canning preside over the festivities while three judges, including one professional ballroom dancing judge, grade the celebrity/dancer duos on such things like posture, footwork, and even facial expressions. All of this should combine into a show that makes you want to put a DVD in and lament the end of the TV season. Surprisingly, Dancing With The Stars is a lot of fun to watch and might end up being the guilty pleasure of the summer.

There's always been some weird appeal to seeing celebrities doing things they normally don't do. Anyone remember the classic Circus Of The Stars specials on CBS? That show had celebrities learning to do various circus feats like the flying trapeze and tightrope walking. Combining the spirit of those specials with reality TV competition, Dancing With The Stars is a piece of fun, almost campy fluff. The celebrities include Joey McIntyre (of New Kids On The Block), Rachel Hunter (model and Rod Stewart's ex-wife), John O'Hurley (from Seinfeld), Evander Holyfield (former Heavyweight Champion Of The World), Trista Sutter (former Bachelorette), and Kelly Monaco (from ABC's popular soap General Hospital). Each of these celebrities is paired with a professional ballroom dancer of the opposite sex. The duos spent five weeks before last week's premiere learning lively and difficult ballroom dances.

The duos then perform live and are scored by three judges. In the tradition of American Idol, the three judges each have their own personalities. Len Goodman, who was a judge on the original BBC version of this show, tries to put a positive spin on the duos' performances. Bruno Tonioli, also a judge on the original BBC version of this show, is lively and makes the frequent silly comment. Carrie Ann Inaba, the only judge not on the BBC show, is the polar opposite of American Idol's Paula Abdul. She will not hesitate to say when she thinks something is bad. The fact that the judges take the performances seriously adds a level of silliness to the proceedings.

The music for each performance is laughably bad. Instead of playing the original recordings, contemporary music is performed by a house band that remains curiously unseen. Never have I heard such classics as Aretha Franklin's "Respect" ripped to shreds. It also doesn't help that for those of us who are not ballroom dancing enthusiasts, the idea of someone ballroom dancing to "Respect" just seems wrong.

This show also has the most ridiculous voting system I've ever seen. In order to determine who was voted off on Wednesday's installment, the votes of the judges from the two episodes so far were combined with the phone results from last Wednesday's episode. The duo that was voted off didn't know if they were gone until the end of Wednesday's show...after they had performed for the second time so far. Am I the only one who thinks that sounds strange? I mean, I had to sit there staring incredulously when Lisa Canning said "If they survive tonight, make sure to vote for your favorite couple when the show ends."

The genuine appeal of this show, however, is seeing the unlikeliest of celebrities cutting a rug. I don't know what possessed Evander Holyfield to make him do this, but I'm glad he did. Even though he's not a great dancer, it's unbelievably fun to watch him attempt to dance well. It's also a bit of a surprise to see someone like John O'Hurley actually dance pretty decently. Also, the behind-the-scenes footage of the celebrities learning the dances is a lot of fun. Seeing moments like Trista Sutter worrying about being too close to her partner for a seductive dance or Rachel Hunter worrying about her back make you want to root for them. Given that the majority of the audience for this show cannot ballroom dance, you cheer the celebrities on as they fall, screw up, and get a little frustrated on the way to their live TV performance.

Dancing With The Stars is a show that is more than the sum of its parts. Those subpar parts somehow combine together to create the perfect show to watch when your TV choices include reruns, cancelled show burnoffs, and movies you've seen a million times. You will laugh (for all the wrong reasons) and cheer (for the right ones). I hope ABC realizes that this show is only summer material. I can tell you right now that Dancing With The Stars would not be appointment viewing during the fall season. However, when it's hot outside and my brain wants something that won't tax its resources, I can sit back with something cold and enjoy this ragtag crew of celebrities try for a 16th, 17th, or 18th minute of fame by ballroom dancing. Isn't summer grand?

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