UPDATE: Attempting To Understand The Casting of DWTS – Season 12

UPDATE 4/3/11: I was completely wrong. The producers knew what they were doing. For the first time in a long time, there is no front-runner. No one with dancing experience prior to show. No controversial, polarizing contestants. No obvious winner after 3 weeks, but multiple contenders. This is the most likeable cast I can remember, plus different contestants “pop” each week. Out of 10 remaining dancers, 9 of them are doing great. Tonight’s Story idea was terrific. For week 3, it was really a chance to connect with each contestant. The whole show tonight was fun, moving and entertaining.  So to reiterate –  I was wrong.

Original Post from March 4th, 2o11:

The last post was a bit heavier and so I decided to go in the exact opposite direction and talk about…. Dancing With the Stars. But specifically, I actually wanted to dissect the casting of what seems, on paper at least, a less than exciting cast.  Don’t think I’m crazy- I know George Clooney won’t ever be doing the show. But certainly they can cast people that don’t require a Google search to find out who they are. As I said on Twitter immediately following the announcement: The cast of the Celebrity Apprentice should NOT be more buzz worthy than the cast of DWTS, and yet at first glance that is precisely the case. DWTS gets 20 million viewers a week. It’s one of the biggest shows on TV. Couldn’t they do better? It also doesn’t mean it can’t be a great season for the show, as there is precedence for people that were “who?” and became “wow”. That is part of the charm of the show.

It’s not really new that the DWTS cast announcement is met with much grousing that these aren’t “stars”. This was especially true in the Fall of ’09 when “stars” like Ashley Hamilton were cast. Ashley was most famous for being married to Shannen Doherty in the early 90s, and he was hardly a household name then, certainly hardly a draw now. That season DWTS had its lowest ratings ever and it seemed ABC got the message that there were too many stars (16) and not enough we cared about. So last spring, ABC and casting VP Deena Katz put together a cast featuring their lowest amount of stars (11) since the early seasons and every name was one someone we would know and kind of care about – Pamela Anderson, Shannen Doherty, and even a polarizing, but very current name in the news, Kate Gosselin. Kate was much derided on the show for her bad dancing and what appeared to be a bad attitude, but in turn got so much press and lasted longer than most thought she deserved to – that the show had its highest rated premiere ever and the ratings were huge all season. Not bad for a show in Season 10. The reality is this in TV – even if there’s a negative reaction, but a passionate one, it sure beats apathy. Last fall they seemed to play from the same book – lots of names we would know and even some really hot button casting – The Situation on the hottest young skewing show currently, Jersey Shore, Jennifer Grey much beloved for “Dirty Dancing” and Bristol Palin, who like Kate outstayed her welcome, but this time actually got to the finale. Once again, it was a stellar season ratings wise and in terms of buzz and the finale was higher rated than it had been in years, mostly due to viewers tuning in to see if Bristol would actually win. Much to the producers elation (I would assume) she came in 3rd and the right winner one.

Now here comes the new edition, Season 12 and it’s important to put things in perspective. ABC is having a rough winter (compared to last). There’s no LOST, last year Modern Family and 2 other comedies broke out – this year no new hits and even The Bachelor is having a lower rated season than it has the last few years (It’s still doing fine but it’s down from its lofty heights of the last 2 years). And in late spring, a new reality competition, The Voice is debuting on NBC and one would have assumed it would be on Monday and/or Tuesday. (It has since been scheduled for Tues). Finally, the biggest “star” and arguably the best choreographer on the show, (and biggest champion, with 3 wins, including the last 2), Derek Hough, announced he was taking Season 12 off. Many of the pros are the real stars of this show and Derek is the biggest of them. (Like his sister he’s making his big screen debut at this time.) In other words, ABC needs DWTS really badly and needs it to be another strong season. That’s where the casting actually mystifies me. I am a pop culture addict and out of the 11 names I didn’t know 2 of them. Granted one was a Disney star and if she’s anything like Kyle Massey last season, (whose charming and warm charisma was on display from the first moment he stepped on stage) then the show will make her a star, but an L.A. DJ? Really? I mean this isn’t some “Celebrity Dishwashing” on VH-1 – this is DWTS – which has 20 million eyeballs every week – no small feat in this TV climate. This is a show where stars of all celebrity status (okay not many A listers, but plenty of B’s) crave and beg to be on it.

They’re not stupid. This show is a chance to showcase a different part of your personality. Just ask Jerry Springer or Pamela Anderson. Look at how many careers changed after being on the show: Mario Lopez had offers aplenty. Gilles Marini got a job as a regular on Brothers & Sisters. Melissa Rycroft has parlayed it into a job as an entertainment correspondent/host.  It’s an opportunity to show a different side of yourself to America, to show your work ethic. Lots of people questioned why Lindsay Lohan would want to do the show, but frankly it would be ideal for someone in her situation. She would be seen by the public AND potential casting directors and film directors/producers for (possibly) 10 weeks. Her personality and (hopefully) strong work ethic would be there for them to see for 2 months.

But I digress. It appears that after the controversy of the last 2 seasons the producers decided to make this season as safe as possible. So there are no stars who it can be said have previous dance experience (Nicole Scherzinger, Jennifer Grey) and there are no celebrities so polarizing to the point that just as many people dislike them as are fans (hello Kate Gosselin and Bristol Plain). So yeah you have no real front runner, which could make for an interesting competition, but you also have a collection of people you are kind of lukewarm about. Oh Sugar Ray, he’s nice, I have always liked him. Oh Ralph Macchio I loved him in The Karate Kid… in 1984. Then there are a bunch of people you kind of know but probably don’t have much of an opinion, plus the couple you have never heard of.

So out of a cast of 11 you have 2 that can be considered current –  Hines Ward (the best casting – he played in last months Superbowl – doesn’t get more current or “Star” than that) and Wendy Williams. She has s a daily talk show, she’s a fun personality, a regular victim of Joel McHale on The Soup. Throw in Kirstie Alley who is someone who has never really left pop culture and has the kind of personality that should make good TV (especially paired with Maksim Chmerkovskiy – the lightning rod of the pros). So by my count, there’s 3 out 11 that should illicit some passion… yeah that’s just meh.

In the producers and Deena Katz’s defense, this show has cast people we have never heard of before and makes them stars after show 1. I remember when Gilles Marini was announced for  Season 8 few years ago and most of us went “who”? and then from premiere night he electrified the crowd and the show made him an instant star. So in a way, DWTS is like most of TV in general. The medium makes the stars  – not the other way around. Also the casting is masterful in the way they really do try to cast someone from every facet of entertainment so that there is someone for everyone to want to check in for. While you might come to the show to see Pam Anderson, then you find yourself rooting for Niecy Nash.

However where last Spring you might have wanted to see Pam Anderson and even the train wreck quality of Kate, and this fall Jennifer but also The Situation and Bristol, is there any one that people are gonna feel they have to tune in on premiere night to see? Honestly I don’t see anyone that fits those criteria. Couldn’t they have done better? There are a handful of MTV and Bravo shows that for the life of me have passionate fan bases. But honestly as a person that has never seen Jersey Shore, I actually liked The Situation on DWTS. He actually was doing something here and he was actually trying hard. He had a good attitude (which certainly made up for his lack of dance skill). That’s what I was referring to regarding showing a different side. Why didn’t the producers try to cast one of those “stars”? The show has always had good luck with Olympians. Johnny Weir has expressed desire to do the show. Is there a person more suited for DWTS? He would be someone people would tune in for and not just for his dancing but also for his personality, plus he already has a passionate fan base.

Look, DWTS is a fun show and has a core audience and the truth is if there are a number of performances on that first night along the lines of Kyle Massey’s last fall, then the show will be fine. I’ve got to assume the producers know there are gonna be some surprises in store and frankly that’s half the fun of the show. Someone you have low expectations for comes on and they totally blow you away. On paper this season of American Idol didn’t sound too enticing, and now between the judges and the amazing talent it’s one of its best (so far). So while on paper this cast is honestly the least exciting one I can remember, who knows? It could turn out to be one of its best. I guess I am just surprised given how important the show is and given how the casting of the last few seasons has proven to work out, that the powers that be didn’t want to give themselves some assurances people would be excited to show up.

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