'Dancing With the Stars': Fan Voting Counts? Shocking!

Today's cuppa: Newhall Coffee Patriot Blend (believe it or not, I'm out of tea. That must be rectified ... quickly)

Bristol_Palin_Mark_Ballas_Dancing_With_the_Stars.jpgMonday night, a man in Wisconsin shot his television and threatened to shoot himself, winding up in a standoff with police (all ended without violence, and he's in jail), because he reportedly was so incensed over Bristol Palin's scores on "Dancing With the Stars."

On Tuesday, she advanced to the finale, airing next Monday and Tuesday on ABC.

I don't even know what to say about the guy with the gun, except to be glad that the only casualty was electronic.

While fervently hoping this sort of idiocy is not repeated ever again, this is far from the first time that controversy has erupted over "Dancing With the Stars."

In fact, the first time there was controversy was the first time the show aired in America in the summer of 2005.

"General Hospital" star Kelly Monaco and pro Alec Mazo faced off against former "Seinfeld" star John O'Hurley and pro Charlotte Jorgensen in the finale, where Monaco eared three perfect 10s, to the surprise of many viewers -- including me -- who saw several flaws in her final dance.

The furor continued into another ballroom, one of the hotel ones where North America's TV press gathers twice a year for the Television Critics Association Press Tour. When the show's producers stated during a press conference that they believed the outcome was fair, there was dissension in the room, with many reporters speaking out on behalf of angry fans who had written to them.

The producers then decided for the first -- and so far, only -- time, to bring back O'Hurley and Monaco for a dance-off, which O'Hurley won.

Later on, in early 2008, after male stars began to dominate the show, figure-skater Kristi Yamaguchi was cast, prompting me to yell, "Ringer!" I wondered whether the producers had stacked the deck with someone who already had many of the necessary skills for dancing to ensure that a female won the competition.

For all I know, that's exactly what they had in mind, and if so, they got their wish when Yamaguchi took the crown, to absolutely no one's surprise.

And they probably cast ABC soap stars because soap fans will watch (and the show is on ABC). They throw in Disney Channel stars because, well, one big happy corporate family. They throw in athletes because they have built-in fan bases, and they throw in controversial figures because people will tune in, stories will be written, and ratings will go up.

In other words, it's a TV show. I gave up complaining after the Yamaguchi incident and just decided to go with the flow. After all, it's BBC Worldwide's show, and the producers can put anyone on it they want. The definition of "Star" is based on two critieria: A, the show asked the person to participate, and B, the person said yes.

There is no objective standard as to what constitutes a star on "Dancing With the Stars." sig-hansen-dancing-outfits.jpg

(Therefore, Sig Hansen of "Deadliest Catch" should not be kept waiting any longer!)

Also there are really no objective standards to the judging. This isn't a real ballroom-dancing competition or the Olympics (frak, after watching a lot of dodgy figure-skating judging at the Olympics, I'm pretty sure the Olympics isn't always the Olympics).

While there are specific things the judges look for (although Carrie Ann Inaba marks down for illegal lifts, while her fellow judges seem often to ignore them), they also have enormous wiggle room when it comes to judging style and performance.

Is the show a dancing contest or a publicity contest? It is, always has been, and always will be ... BOTH.

Emmitt Smith (with pro partner Cheryl Burke, below) didn't win in 2006 because he was technically the most perfect dancer. If you recall, he tied in the scores at the end with former "Saved by the Bell" star Mario Lopez, but ultimately won because the fan voting pushed him through.

I was thrilled at the ending while knowing full well, and not caring in the slightest, that Lopez was the superior hoofster.
A person advances because of judges' scores and vote totals (which are never revealed to the public). If your scores are lousy, even huge voting probably cannot save you for long. But if your scores are not great but good enough, heavy fan voting can carry you through.

Have Palin fans gamed the online voting, as Jezebel is claiming, because email addresses don't have to be verified? Maybe, but that's an issue for the ABC.com webmasters to solve -- if they want to, that is. And I'd be gobsmacked if this is the very first time that this particular technical loophole was utilized, whether or not it's the first time it's been used to a large extent.

UPDATE: Click here for an article quoting "Dancing" executive producer as saying that the show's voting system prevents efforts at online ballot-stuffing.

Is there going to be a "Quiz Show" scandal moment? I doubt it, because the contestants are not just members of the general public, they're paid to participate, and there is no money prize at stake, just a fugly mirror-ball trophy (although the winners do get to go on a nationwide tour).

cherylburke_emmittsmith_dancingstars3_240.jpgBut, if someone suspects real irregularities in the judging or voting, I suspect the FCC would be happy to hear about it.

Is Palin's advancement, as has been alleged, a possible death blow to the credibility of the franchise? I can't help but think that if there wasn't a large group of people inclined to object to her before she ever set foot on the dance floor, we might not be having this conversation.

Or we might. It's happened before.

"Dancing With the Stars" is a reality-TV show that is not even a competition on the level of "The Amazing Race" or "Survivor," where cash money is on the line. The producers cast for talent, they cast for name recognition, they cast for ABC/Disney stars, and they cast for controversy.

Mostly they cast for ratings.

People will win because of talent or because of personal charisma or because of having built-in fan bases -- or all of the above.

Is there a larger political aspect to the voting for Palin? Maybe, probably, so what? Soap fans vote for their faves; sports fans vote for theirs; reality-show fans vote for theirs. It's not as if the "Dancing With the Stars" producers didn't know exactly what they were doing when they cast Bristol (according to her dad Todd, after they asked him first).

The producers could also choose to change the way the show is scored. They've done that before, and could do it again.

I've read a lot of comments from people threatening to never watch the show again because they don't like the results so far.

Awesome, that's exactly how you should react if you don't like something on TV -- DON'T WATCH. That's how fans really send messages to TV execs. If the audience drops significantly for the next season's premiere, a message will have been sent loud and clear.

All shows have "jump the shark" moments, and many think this may be "Dancing's." I don't know if that's true, time will tell, and since another cycle of the show will ramp up in early 2011, we won't have long to wait.

There's even talk there may be a same-sex couple on the next season.

I'm quite sure that wouldn't garner any publicity or fan reaction at all, not even a little bit.