The dance floor glitters with the refracted light from the sparkles and spangles decorating the women’s gowns and surrounding set.
The studio audience “oohs” and “aahs” as the competitors prance and posture, swoop and glide, shimmy and shake. And when the music stops, either groans or shouts of glee greet the decisions of three judges sitting just offstage.
Live from Hollywood, it’s “Dancing With the Stars,” ABC’s battle of the ballroom — and a hit, debuting a few weeks ago at No. 1 and holding.
Going “live” has been vital to the success of the Wednesday night show (9 p.m. Eastern), says co-producer Conrad Green.
“There’s not really anywhere to hide. If they fall ... they fall ... it definitely ups the stakes,” Green says. “If you know you can’t retake something ... it really keeps everyone on their toes.”
Green was talking the morning after “General Hospital” star Kelly Monaco’s bodice strap had snapped, forcing her to complete her samba while struggling to hold her scanty green outfit in place.
Actually, there’s a brief delay in the transmission of “Dancing With the Stars” — as with many other live telecasts since Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” — so nothing, uh, unseemly is in danger of being revealed on nationwide TV.
But the studio audience of 300 — dressed for the cocktail hour, yet advised to behave like they were watching a sporting event — gasped and leaned forward expectantly when the mishap occurred.
Monaco’s carry-on-regardless aplomb earned her kudos from the judges. When their scores were combined with viewers’ votes from the previous week, she and professional partner Alec Mazo survived the cut.
So on this week’s round five, they’ll have to best John O’Hurley (J. Peterman of “Seinfeld”) who’s paired with professional choreographer Charlotte Jorgensen, and Joey McIntyre (of New Kids on the Block fame) whose pro partner is Ashly DelGrosso.
On this night, model Rachel Hunter went the way of previous celebrity losers Trista (“Bachelorette”) Sutter and former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield — her eyes glistening with tears when she got the boot.
Show a hit in all demographics
The show is derived from a BBC production in Britain, where ballroom dancing has long been a prime-time mainstay. Although a big success there and in many parts of the world, the concept wasn’t an easy sell to an American network.
The set design on the Television City soundstage is almost identical to the British version, with the audience on three sides of a dance floor, a staircase for grand entrances, a raised podium for the three judges and a live orchestra. No fewer than 10 cameras cover the action.
Green believes celebrities, whose prize is merely “a little trophy,” respond to the challenge because it fulfills their secret dreams.
Judging by the emotion in the celebrities’ eyes as they await the voting verdicts, it’s clear they’re hooked.
“John O’Hurley’s quite an easygoing, bright, funny, relaxed guy most of the time, but when you say, ‘Your fox-trot is going to be judged, and if you’re not good enough you are going home,’ he works like fury,” says Green, noting the stars have been spending 20 to 30 hours each week learning the routines.
Last week, ultra-elegant in white tie and tails, after twirling with Jorgensen through a Viennese waltz to the tune of “I Got You, Babe,” O’Hurley said participating in the competition has “helped me take myself a little less seriously.”
Attracting 15.5 million viewers last week, the show is a hit in all key demographics.
“A No. 1 hit show like this influences people to want to participate in this romantic physical activity that is exercise and fun and improves social skills at the same time,” says Cassese.
“Nothing is more beautiful than seeing two people dancing together — it’s like a relationship filled with respect and trust,” says Jorgensen, who, besides teaching O’Hurley his moves, also tutored Richard Gere for the movie “Shall We Dance.”
“I’m not surprised the show’s a success. The format is so good. It’s more like a variety show, not like a reality show,” says Len Goodman, the veteran British judge.
He tries to keep his criticism balanced — encouraging the stars, because they are amateurs trying their hardest, but also “hopefully giving the audience some guidance” on how the dances should really be performed.