What's the Appeal of 'Dancing With the Stars'?

I've tried to appreciate the courage it takes for non-dancing D-lister's to perform outside their comfort zone. Really, I have.

Dancing With the Stars

Airtime: Tuesdays, 8pm
Cast: Bruno Tonioli, Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, Brooke Burke, Tom Bergeron
Network: ABC

Dancing With The Stars recently reached its climactic finalé for its 12th season but I wonder, what's the show's appeal? Along with American Idol, Dancing With the Stars is the most popular talent competition on television. It was the top rated show for Fall 2010 and contributed to ABC's second place finish among the networks for the same time period. It's loved by millions. Except me.

I've tried to like it. I've tried to get excited about watching celebrities I've forgotten about or don't know, as they ballroom dance in tight, sparkly outfits. I've tried to love how the judges whip up their scorecards with military zeal. I've tried to enjoy the forced banter between the hosts. I've even tried to appreciate the courage it takes for non-dancing D-lister's to perform outside their comfort zone. Really, I have.

So to better understand what I'm missing, I decided to break the show down into its two component parts: dancing and stars.

Dance is about grace, strength and skill. It can be beautiful, provocative and sometimes, amazing. From what I've seen of Dancing With the Stars, none of these adjectives apply to the performances. If a compliment is used, it's mostly reserved for the celebrities who have a dance background. Maybe if the show was called Learning to Dance With the Stars, I could get on-board and possibly appreciate the behind the scenes rehearsal footage where the stars complain, cry and repeatedly tell us how tough it all is. Maybe the appeal is the struggle to master routines.

As for the stars, it could be intriguing to watch celebrities not excel at everything they do. But for this to be true we'd have to be watching actual stars. This season, the show gave us actors whose spotlights dimmed decades ago, a woman only familiar to the Disney demographic, another who is famous for being the former girlfriend of an octogenarian and an L.A. radio host who calls himself 'Psycho Mike' while giving out relationship advice with Dr. Drew. Here's the thing. If large numbers of the public have to consult Wikipedia to figure out the cast, they might not qualify as actual 'stars'.

If the show is about learning, not dancing, and features people who have name recognition not stardom, why do people watch?

Maybe it's for the competition. Viewers love a fight, whether it's a fight to be the best at something or an old-fashioned brawl. Audiences want to cheer for their favorite. More importantly, they want to vote for their favorite and that's what Dancing With The Stars offers. Like American Idol, it's about giving the audience control and power over someone's fate. When that someone happens to be a media personality (however faded) who inspires like and dislike, it's even more powerful.

For me, however, the most powerful thing that Dancing With the Stars offers is the opportunity to change the channel.

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