Dancing with the Stars might be the least obvious show on television. It also might be the most perfect. No one could legitimately claim that, before Dancing with the Stars hit the air in the summer of 2005, they were jones-ing for a reality show that pitted C-List celebrities against each other in a ballroom dancing competition.
The idea is completely ludicrous. The show could take place in any sort of competitive arena (FOX did this with “Skating with Celebrities”). How could anyone possibly have the urge to watch Harry Hamlin and an anonymous, scantily-clad, professional dancer perform a mediocre mambo? How does this have an audience?
The answer is simple. Dancing with the Stars is the most perfectly constructed and shrewdly produced reality show in the history of television. Bold? Yes, I suppose, but undoubtedly true.
How do I know this? Dancing with the Stars isn’t a great show. It’s not. I enjoy it, but not that much. And I presume this is how most of the country digests Dancing with the Stars: not rabidly or with the devotion that, say, a Grey’s Anatomy fanatic takes in Grey’s. Dancing with the Stars isn’t dramatic, really. We’re not seeing amateurs vying for fame. We’re not seeing middle class contestants compete for millions of dollars. There are no transcendent moments. Nothing inspiring is taking place. The stakes, really, couldn’t be lower. What do these celebrities win? A freaking trophy.
So, knowing this, how is it possible that more people are interested in watching quasi-celebrities dance than watching diverse, intriguing teams of two travel around the world in order to win a million dollars on The Amazing Race? The Amazing Race features normal people having epiphanic moments. Dancing with the Stars features familiar faces on a stage in Burbank dancing like Uncle Lester at your cousin’s wedding.
The answer is this: Whereas most reality shows try to appeal to a large portion of a specific audience, Dancing with the Stars appeals to a small portion of every audience. There is not one demographic that Dancing with the Stars offers nothing to.
Exploitation of B-List Celebrities? Check.
Voting off of Contestants? Check.
Viewers Allowed to Call In Votes? Check.
Talent/Performance Aspect? Check.
Show is Live, thus Creating Possibility of Failure on a National Stage? Check.
Beautiful Women? Check.
Scantily-Clad Women? Check.
Handsome Men? Check
Older, Dignified Handsome Men? Check.
One Snotty English Judge, One Minority Judge, and One Attractive Female Judge? Check.
Behind the Scenes Aspect? Check.
Sexual Intrigue? Check.
And it goes on. Dancing with the Stars contains every important aspect of every popular reality show in one way or another. It is the Frankenstein’s Monster of TV shows.
If you want to see hot girls in revealing outfits, hot men showing excess of man cleavage, good dancing (by the pros), bad dancing (by Jerry Springer), a sports star sully his reputation or mock a TV host that constantly makes bad jokes, Dancing with the Stars is your show.
So, while Dancing with the Stars may seem like a weirdly specific, highly-specialized program geared towards a sub-set of celebrity-dancing loving Americans you didn’t know existed, the truth is much simpler. By not trying to be one thing to one portion of viewers, it’s become all things to all viewers.
Even if it’s ostensibly about celebrities dancing the Waltz.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer