Sunday, July 10, 2005

A Sort-Of Apology

A few days ago I got the following e-missive. Although I have the name of the offended party I won't run it since I haven't contacted him and asked his permission. The guy (I will go that far - it was a man) wanted me to apologise for the piece I wrote on the first episode of Dancing With The Stars. Here's what he wrote (although I've replaced his quotation marks in keeping with the style I try to maintain in the Blog):

I'm awaiting your public apology relative to Dancing with the Stars. You thought you knew it all.

Well I'm not going to do it. True I was wrong when I said that Dancing With The Stars was a train wreck waiting to happen. But I refuse to apologise for expressing what at the time was my honest opinion.

Allow me to defend my position. The review was, on the whole not particularly negative to the show itself. The last line states "it at least has the advantage of originality" and while I did fault them on some technical gaffes - like the cameras shooting directly into bright lights which had the effect of totally obscuring the dancers - and for hiring Tom Bergeron as host (and giving him a pile of lame jokes), I did state that I found the premise intriguing. In fact I stated in my original review "Ballroom Dancing is a beautiful thing and even sensual thing when you're doing it ... and if there's a market for hours of figure skating in the winter, then there should be a market for this."

No, my problem wasn't with the show it was with the viewing public. The show was imported from Britain where Ballroom Dancing is a staple on TV, while it is hard to find Ballroom Dancing on TV even on a cable station in North America. Broadcast network coverage? Forget about it. Look at the British imports in the "nontraditional" programming areas that have appeared on network TV in the US and died: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, The Weakest Link and the original concept of Big Brother (strictly speaking it debuted in the Netherlands but it was only when it hit in Britain that it came to the US) were all tried and for one reason or another failed in the US. This season's other British import in this style Hit Me Baby One More Time drew less than satisfactory ratings. My expectation for Dancing With The Stars was that North Americans wouldn't turn on the TV to watch it - that having expressed an enjoyment of people eating disgusting things (Fear Factor) Trying to find "Mr. Right" (The Bachelor), and scheming and backstabbing (too many shows to mention but including Survivor and The Apprentice and their clones), they would have neither the grounding nor the interest in watching people - even if they are semi-famous - dance in a formal style, because there wouldn't be enough "action". Thankfully I was wrong. It almost restores my faith in TV viewers. Almost.

The part of the email that really got me was that last sentence: "You thought you knew it all." Well no I didn't. I did what reviewers do, I stated my opinion. In my opinion the show was a train wreck waiting to happen because I didn't think it was going to get an audience. And incidentally I wasn't the only one. Although a Google News search didn't go back farther than June 6 here are some comments from professional reviewers.
  • The Mercury News: Take ABC's Dancing With the Stars (9 p.m. Wednesdays, Ch. 7) which made its debut last week. It's a ballroom dancing competition. (Well, that's OK.) It's a poorly executed version of a British hit. (Strike one.) It features such D-list celebrities as ex-``Bachelorette'' Trisha Sutter. (Strike two.) And it has a really lame host in Tom Bergeron from ``America's Funniest Home Videos.'' (Strike three, you're out.).
  • The San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman: I also didn't review Dancing With the Stars on ABC because not just my life, but all lives, are too short to watch D-list celebrities dance.
  • The New York Daily News: Programs that premiered last week without benefit of preview, ABC's Dancing With the Stars and NBC's Hit Me Baby One More Time, provided too little context and even less entertainment value. Judges on the former tried too hard to be glib and quote-worthy (but failed), while watching the ravages of time do their work on formerly idolized rockers is more sadistic than heartwarming.
  • The Washington Post: Dancing With the Stars Inexplicably, about 13.5 million viewers watched the unveiling of ABC's dance competition starring C-list has-beens such as New Kids on the Block's Joey McIntyre, Rod Stewart's ex-model spouse Rachel Hunter, former world heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield and professional reality-series star Trista Sutter.
  • ( the online component of Canada's Sun newspapers): Forget the strange goings-on in the jungle on Lost, a more bizarre and mind-boggling mystery is emerging at ABC. No, it's not the network's new show Invasion or the latest script for Desperate Housewives - it's the unbelievable success of the ultra-cheesy ballroom dance-off show, Dancing With the Stars.
There are more if you're interested. By comparison I was gentle. They're all expressing their opinion. Could that opinion be wrong? Of course and I am willing to admit that my assessment of the ratings potential of Dancing With The Stars was off the mark. However nowhere have I ever said that what I've written while reviewing a TV show has been anything but my opinion, and I doubt that any critic ever has. So while I might apologise for not being perceptive enough to predict that the show would be a hit, I will not apologise for expressing the opinion that it wouldn't find a large audience.

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