Nov. 30, 2013 at 11:59 AM ET
The glitz, sequins and the mirror-ball trophy still sparkle, but "Dancing With the Stars" has lost a lot of its shine over the past few seasons. In fact, this might just be the right time to bid farewell to the long-running ballroom bash.
Sure, after 17 seasons, the celebrity dance competition is a TV staple, but longevity isn't enough to earn it a permanent spot in the prime-time lineup. "Dancing With the Stars" has seen a fairly steady decline in ratings in recent years, hitting a Monday low on Nov. 11 (12.5 million) after peaking with 24 million viewers in 2010's season 10 premiere.
It's clear that despite a rotation of fresh stars and seasonal shake-ups, the ballroom bash isn't offering fans the show they deserve anymore.
Just look at some of the show's missteps:
Change, but the problems stay the same
Each season brings something new to the ballroom, and change is good. It's exactly what viewers have been clamoring for: Bring back fan-favorite pros! Ditch the ringers! Infuse some new life into the judges panel! Replace co-host Brooke Burke with someone — anyone — more suited to the task of live Q&As!
But those aren't the changes the powers-that-be have rolled out.
A big makeover in season 13 saw the addition of a lighted, orchestra pit-spanning staircase that splits in two — an unlikely item on any fan's wish list. And when season 17 kicked off, in addition to the elimination of the Tuesday-night results show, the judges' table was moved from stage left to stage right with much fanfare — another change no one really cared about and the show certainly didn't need.
‘9! 9! 9!’
“DWTS” has had one of the better judging panels on reality TV, because former dance pros Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba know their stuff and entertain. But after 17 seasons, viewers also know these judges — and their biases and weaknesses — a little too well. Put a hunky athlete on the dance floor, and Inaba will go gaga regardless of his dance ability. Choreograph something a little too modern? Sticky-wicket head judge Goodman will get annoyed.
Not only that, longtime fans have learned enough to know when a dance lacks the proper moves — and even worse, to notice when the judges don’t call out infractions and the scores are totally predictable (not to mention confusingly high). The show did a smart thing this season by bringing in some guest judges — especially former pros Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Julianne Hough — to shake things up. But unless the stand-ins bring strong opinions along with them (ahem, Cher), there's not much point to it.
The Disney star, the Olympic athlete and the nostalgia factor
Just like the judging, the casting has become too predictable. Each season, fans can expect the same types of celebrities, and we’re not just talking about the lower-level names that viewers always complain about. (C’mon, guys. Give up on dreaming of megastars such as George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence. Ain’t gonna happen. Ever.)
You’ve got your Disney up-and-comer, the football player, the redemption story, the old star who wins nostalgia votes, the Olympic athlete, the former girl/boy bander, the comedian … it feels like it never changes. Surprise us, “Dancing”! (Although maybe not with another Tom DeLay or Bristol Palin, thanks. In fact, let's just say no more political figures.)
Where's the bad boy?
One of the biggest boo-boos was not bringing Maks back as a pro dancer for the last two seasons. The bad boy of the ballroom was fiery, passionate and rarely held his tongue when he disagreed with the judges. Sure, his comments often generated drama, but his love for dance just added to the fun of the show. And his passion for his work was obvious, as he's choreographed some of the show's best routines. (Maks and Mel B.'s spicy paso doble, anyone?) During the all-stars season in 2012, the contenders acknowledged this fact by choosing to perform three of his past dances for "Iconic Dance Night." Beyond that, if the show's going to have a golden boy (Derek Hough, who has now won five mirror balls), it needs its bad boy to balance things out.
The case against the glam-filled reality TV competition seems like a solid one, but the truth is, there's still hope.
Even with the overall ratings dive — which has actually inched up ever so slightly in recent weeks —and the other ongoing woes, "Dancing" still gets an impressive share of viewers thanks to the part of the original formula that still works: taking celebrities out of their comfort zone and making them seem a little more like the rest of us as they stumble through new challenges — and sometimes, they even succeed.
Well, there's that and host Tom Bergeron, who continues to be a boon for the ballroom.
But it's going to take something more to turn the "Dancing" trajectory around. What the show really needs is another makeover, one that addresses fans' complaints, before cancellation chatter goes from mere suggestion to reality.