"Dancing with the Stars": Step into the Happy Zone

By Elaine Liner Archives
Cover image for  article: "Dancing with the Stars": Step into the Happy Zone

Now in its third year on ABC, Dancing with the Stars is the happiest show on earth. It’s impossible not to smile while watching the pretty people swirl around the floor. And thanks to host Tom Bergeron and this season’s quickest-witted celebrity hoofer, Adam Carolla, there are more laughs per episode than on any of the network’s sitcoms.

Monday’s third round of jives and tangos was another grin-fest marked by some fine dancing (Priscilla Presley? Who knew?), snappy choreography and perhaps another glimpse at who might be among next season’s dancing stars. Looking on from the ringside seats this week was tennis player Jennifer Capriati. Last week it was Paula Abdul, who has expressed interest in being on DWTS during the months American Idolisn’t in production in the fall.

Can you imagine the wonderful level of crazy Abdul would bring to the ABC show?
There’s nobody truly loony on the current DWTS—though if she gets another batch of low scores like she got last night, Marissa Jaret Winokur might have an on-camera nervous breakdown and throttle judge Carrie Ann Inaba--but they’re all a little nuts to be doing it at all. Carolla has admitted on his morning radio show that he only signed up to dance as a promotional vehicle for his independent movie, The Hammer (now playing in a dozen theaters, mostly on the West Coast). He’s complained on the radio about the amount of rehearsal time required and suggested a cap on it—say, four hours a day for everybody—because he has other jobs (and toddler twins at home) to attend to, while some of his fellow dancers have nothing much else going on (paging Steve Guttenberg). But for all his whining, Carolla also become competitive. His tango this week was not only smoothly executed, he was, as even Inaba was forced to admit, downright sexy.
Carolla also has turned into the darling of DWTS’ highlight reel for his bitterly funny rejoinders to the judges and his observations on some of the more bizarre aspects of the show. After his tango, he noted disapproval of partner Julianne Hough’s costume: “The Sandy Duncan wig and the friar’s frock is not helping our cause.” Back in the holding pen, he quipped that “if you wanna learn an Argentinean dance that's about prostitutes [the tango], speak to a Mormon.” (Hough and her competing dancer-brother Derek are Mormons raised in Utah.)
The backstage hostess, ever-flappable Samantha Harris, gets a deliciously daffy bimbo-in-the-headlights look whenever Carolla is talking. If it’s not written on the cards in her hand, Harris goes blank. As an on-the-fly interviewer, she’s right up there with Sherri Shepherd. Again, part of the delight of watching the show is seeing how Carolla can shake Harris up.
Among the other competitors, Marlee Matlin is downright astonishing (and those gams!). Football player Jason Taylor has what former DWTS Emmitt Smith had: athletic power, surprising grace and a smile to die for. As for Guttenberg, about the only thing he’s gotten right is his declaration that the show is “life affirming.” His dancing is so stiff, he looks ready to be embalmed.
All these layers to DWTS—music, dancing under pressure, glitzy costumes, funny outbursts—make it a gigantic carnival of silliness. Though the average pair of (probably bifocal-wearing) eyeballs looking at DWTS belongs to someone over age 55, it has huge appeal across the generations. Maybe even more than American Idol, which this season seems more tired and pointless than ever. DWTS provides more giddy moments of G-rated entertainment than almost anything else in prime time.
It’s certainly making show-owner Disney happy. DWTS is the third highest-rated show on TV, behind the back-to-back American Idol performance and results shows. Close to 21 million viewers tune to DWTS each week, a million more than watch ABC’s other hit, Grey’s Anatomy. Viewers going to the Dancing Web site to click-vote for their favorite stars have driven up traffic 600 percent. Also offered on the site are full episodes, interviews and dancing lesson videos.
Based on the BBC series Strictly Come Dancing, the ABC version gets more than $200,000 for every 30-second commercial. According to a recent report in BusinessWeek, Idol pulls more than $600,000 per 30-second spot because the Fox show’s viewers’ average age is 42, a more desirable demo than the over-50s.
It may be a harder sell to advertisers, but DWTS this season is waltzing away with the title of feel-good show of the year.
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