Ballroom Dancing: The Latest in Edgy Programming

Toss out the serious message -heavy TV shows - the procedural cop programs, the life-and-death struggling medical efforts, the gut-wrenching courtroom dramas -- frivolity is now in vogue for TV.

On Wednesday night a large number of U.S. viewers turned to ABC to see 'B' and 'C' list stars dance the waltz and cha-cha-cha with professional ballroom dancers.

Networks might as well cancel all the crime dramas like "CSI" and "Law & Order" right now. Competing network TV programmers must now seek out this new edgy wave of programming. East Coast Swing and Salsa dancing contests will be next.

ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" earned a fast-footed 13.5 million viewers and a smooth moving 4.3/12 in adults 18-49 ratings. Not bad for a summer effort. It was the best start in 18-49 for an unscripted series in the summer since NBC's "Last Comic Standing" in June 2003. The show is an import from the BBC, which has done its own U.K. version for years, called "Strictly Come Dancing."

The show almost seemed like a put-on -- famous actors dancing with pure professionals. You kept wondering if someone wasn't going to take a bad dive - or worse - an untimely split.

Instead, the proceedings were familiar enough with judges -- in the more friendly Simon Cowell 'American Idol' vein -- grading steps and movements of "Seinfeld"'s John O'Hurley, Rod Stewart's ex, model Rachel Hunter, "The Bachelorette"'s Trista Sutter, New Kids on the Block's Joey McIntyre, Kelly Monaco from "General Hospital," and heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield.

This means ABC is now firmly in the frivolous business, which started at the beginning of last season with that little guilty pleasure "Desperate Housewives" - a put-on type of show itself.

Lessons learned here are obvious. Watch for more satire - or just pure escapism. Virtually dated TV program concepts are in style now. No doubt variety shows and westerns will become the latest programs on network television.

What is old is new again -- and that gets old-style high ratings.

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