'Dancing With The Stars' Dilemmas

ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” remains one of television’s most tantalizing puzzles.

It is still one of the most entertaining shows on any network. Although it’s bigger and glitzier and faster-paced, elements of it often remind me of the variety series of yesteryear, especially when special guest stars perform on its stage. That semi-nostalgic appeal may have something to do with its suave star, Tom Bergeron, who continues to put a contemporary spin on one of the oldest gigs in television -- the talent competition host. These observations won’t resonate with young viewers, but they certainly should with anyone old enough to remember the glory days of Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, Dean Martin and so many others.

That’s where the puzzling aspect of “Dancing” comes in. We’re often reminded that its audience is “older” than that of its competition, or of many other popular broadcast programs. And yet it continues to sit high atop the Nielsen ratings and it has become one of the most tweeted-about shows on television. Last night, its season finale generated 121,000 tweets that were viewed by more than 2,500,000 distinct Twitter accounts. While that was way below the Twitter figures for last night’s edition of “The Voice” (940,000 tweets viewed by 3,200,000 distinct Twitter accounts) it was decidedly higher than anything else on television last night. (The third most tweeted-about show was a new episode of MTV’s scripted teen comedy “Awkward.” It generated a mere 36,000 tweets that were viewed by 852,000 distinct Twitter accounts.)



Last night’s Twitter results for “Dancing” are even more impressive given that “The Voice” was for the third week in a row busily encouraging its viewers to tweet and save one of its bottom three contestants from getting the boot.

What does this Twitter activity for “Dancing with the Stars” really mean? Is it more popular among the young and the tweeting than traditional ratings measurement would have us believe? Have “old” people taken to social media with such gusto that they can push shows they enjoy to the top of the Twitter ratings? Or is Twitter activity of no real significance in the long run?

The puzzlement doesn’t end there. The competitors who emerged as the top two dancers of the season on “Dancing” both owe their careers to the unwavering support of millions of kids and teens -- demographic groups that presumably aren’t flocking to the show. Amber Riley, who won the coveted mirror ball trophy at the end of last night’s finale, was for three seasons a star of Fox’s “Glee” (during the time that it was a true popular culture phenomenon). Runner-up Corbin Blue was a featured player in the three “High School Musical” movies and the star of the Disney Channel movie “Jump In!” They both enjoy burgeoning young fan bases that presumably propelled them to the top week after week throughout this season of “Dancing.”

Similarly, the youthful Jack Osbourne -- who like Riley and Bleu is in his twenties, came in third in the competition (after steadily improving the most as a dancer throughout the season).

Of course, the fourth-most-popular competitor this season proved to be comedian Bill Engvall, who is definitely not a “young” person and also not a very good dancer. Which brings up an ongoing source of frustration with this show: Watching less talented individuals like Engvall stay in the game while so many superior dancers get tossed along the way. (This season, the egregiously underappreciated included Brant Daugherty, Elizabeth Berkley, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and Leah Remini.) I suspect Engvall is more popular with more “older” people than many of this season’s contestants, so that likely explains his staying power.

I can’t help but wonder: If “Dancing with the Stars” followed the path taken by “The Voice” and turned its weekly elimination over to people on Twitter, would it become a different show in any way? Daugherty, for example, might have benefitted from such a move, because he is identified with ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars,” the series that commands more social media interaction than any other on television, or so we are told.

The biggest puzzle and most obvious question about “Dancing with the Stars,” especially at the end of this season, is this: Is it fair to add performers with professional dance experience into its mix? Amber Riley may have been the best dancer this season (no argument here) but didn’t her years dancing on “Glee” (and its touring stage shows) put her at a distinct advantage over most of the others? And how about Corbin Bleu: He has been one of the best young dancers in movies and on Broadway in recent years! (I attended a performance of the “High School Musical” road show at the Hartford Civic Center a few years ago and witnessed the thunderous response from the audience when Bleu took to the stage, out-dancing everyone around him. My ears are still ringing.)

I realize the routines they had to learn for “Dancing” were different from anything they had done before, but still … In that light, and with all due respect to Riley and Bleu, isn’t Osbourne -- who had never before danced, isn’t particularly athletic and is learning to live with multiple sclerosis -- the real winner of the season? 


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