Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dancing With the Stars Season 18 Announces New Cast and Changes

Why should we watch Dancing with the Stars Season 18? WHY? Here’s why.

Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Sharna Burgess. Courtesy of ABC

Those two crazy kids in the middle there? You might recognize them. They just won a couple of gold medals in Sochi for ice dancing.

And the man to Meryl’s right? Love him or hate him, the fact is, we miss him. Dancing with the Stars’ bad boy extraordinaire, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, is BACK!!! I have bitched about him too, in these pages, but I am really glad to see him in the roster. Cause I’ve missed Maks’ dancing. Sure his little brother Val was great, transcendent even, with his last two partners, but the Mirror Ball proved as elusive to Val as it did to his brother before him. (Sadly.) And Maks just flat out gives the show something that it really needs, so I am truly and sincerely, really glad he’s back.

Sharna Burgess, the gorgeous woman to Charlie White’s left, has also gotten kind of a bum deal in the last few seasons. She was superb with Andy Dick, but got voted out too soon. And she danced her heart out as part of the troupe last season, but it was very clear that this woman is meant to be a pro! So I’m very glad that she starts out the season with possibly the best male competitor, Charlie White. Go Sharna!

Those aren’t the only reasons to watch, of course, but those are the—pardon all the Olympics puns—the gold star reasons.

There are other Olympians, other athletes, which we’ll all go through in good time as the season progresses. Plus our usual roster of has-beens and washed-up stars. Oh, settle down, it’s a joke... speaking of which, did you see Chelsea Handler talking to George Stephanopolous recently? She had to explain every joke to him. And he asked her: “Why don’t you go on #DWTS?” Quothe she: “I have a job.” It really is like that.
NeNe Leaks and Tony Dovolani. Courtesy of ABC
We also have these two. Talk about an interesting pairing to watch! 

So we’ll get into all these folks more in detail on the first episode. Today, I just wanted to tell you what I’m excited about.

All the important people are here: both Chmerkovskiy brothers, Mark Ballas, Sharna, Karina Smirnoff, Cheryl Burke, Peta Murgatroyd. I was just about having a heart attack during the announcement because they had announced everyone and Derek Hough was still not there. Luckily, he is there, and this season, he’s dancing with a woman with two prosthetic legs. That should be amazing.

(My own personal “I won’t watch this show if...” would come down to two things: Mark Ballas and Derek Hough. As long as they are there, all is right with the world.)

Which brings us to the next part. If you read any #DWTS comments sections this week, you’re going to see a whole lot of *huffy* “Well, I’m not watching the show NOW!” stuff.

Let’s all just take a deep breath, shall we?

Two major things happened to ruffle the continuum in the #DWTS universe. One, conductor Harold Wheeler and his orchestra (and presumably singers) are all gone. They have been replaced with... well, it’s unclear. I’ve seen reports that say both a smaller band and a tape machine. We shall see, won’t we?

In either case, in the case of both of these changes, I say, let’s just see what the show has up its sleeve, shall we? While I always mourn talented artists in Hollywood having jobs and then losing them, I also really love how #DWTS, like any good artist, is always changing, evolving, moving with the times. That is how cutting-edge art is made. Whether anyone else knows it or not, #DWTS is really full of cutting edge art, dancers at the top of their game being brilliant.

However, it’s also true that the show started as a “strictly ballroom” show. Hence, a big orchestra with a bandleader. But as the show has evolved, doing more “jazz” numbers and hip hop and other things, it’s really not appropriate to have an orchestra do those. Or, in some cases, with some songs, they just flat out can’t. So what does one do? Force the orchestra to do record scratches? Or evolve, and let the artists that this show is about (ie, DANCERS) do what they need to present their art in the best way?

I firmly say: the LATTER. And so, apparently, did ABC. Gone is the big orchestra. Hopefully, the wanky little waiting area on the side of the judges is also gone (from last season). Good change: not having tired dancers have to mount a flight of stairs after dancing. Bad change: the dancer waiting area right next to the judges. There is a certain amount of distance between artist and audience which is appropriate and necessary, so I really hope that is one of the first changes we also see. Also, we don’t want the forced, “You have to sit there,” nonsense. Let them walk around backstage or warm-up or do whatever they have to do for their process. It’s not necessary to have everyone on camera all the time.

And the other big change, the one which really got a lot of folks up in arms, and prompted the “Well, I’m not watching now! Harumph!” nonsense all over social media was the firing of Brooke Burke-Charvet. Here’s my opinion on the matter. Brooke Burke is gorgeous, looks great in a dress, and I look forward to seeing her on a calendar or in a magazine at some point in the future. But frankly, the job is that of announcer. Which doesn’t just mean reading off cue cards (which, let’s face it, our Miss Brooke struggled with QUITE OFTEN), it’s also being an integral part of the show. Like lube that eases everything along.

Tom Bergeron is brilliant at this. Some people were snarkily commenting that it’s because Brooke Burke is getting older and Erin Andrews, her replacement, is younger, and that’s why. To which I say: Tom Bergeron. Tom is probably older than the both of them put together, and he’s not going anywhere. And that’s because he knows his job, and he does his job as well as anyone in the business (which is also why HE got nominated for Emmys, and Brooke Burke-Charvet never did).

Here’s why Tom earns his salary and Brooke didn’t. In the Maks dustup with the judges, which caused Maks to exit the show for two seasons, Tom was right there, making (unscripted) jokes, keeping things running, keeping tempers smoothed. Brooke, in contrast, was like a deer in headlights. That, IMHO, is why she really needed to be fired a couple seasons ago.

Let’s see. She can’t read cue cards decently, she asks inane questions awkwardly, she is terrible at impromptu unscripted moments. What does she do again? Oh yeah, she looks great in a dress. That’s not what you hire ANNOUNCERS for. So ABC is very savvy to put in Erin Andrews, who, like Brooke, earned her dance stripes by dancing on the show, with Maks, no less.

And, right out of the gate, at the big Good Morning America announcement, Andrews proved why she’s the right person for the job. Not only does she smooth things with banter, but she also understands social media, and referenced it. Naturally. Like she actually uses it.

So, it appears that the new season of #DWTS is about change. Many in the audience seem to be bristling at it, but I thrive on change and look forward to everything DWTS has to offer us.

Oh, speaking of which, sometime (I would assume mid-season) they are throwing in a twist, where the teams will switch partners and WE, the audience, get to choose who is partnered up with whom. That should be very fun. One wonders if that means that good pros who are voted out quickly might be able to come back? Or just from the ones who are left? Either way, recent seasons have seemed like it was a long, but assured, walk to the Mirror Ball for some people. It’s good to change it up a bit. Keeps the pros on their toes.

Plus, it also may mean we get to see Derek dancing with Meryl at some point after all. :-)  Or Maks with NeNe, which is the pairing I wanted. Should really be a fun season. I can’t wait.

Dancing with the Stars Season 18 starts Monday, March 17 on ABC.

BTW, in another side note, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but I sure have. ABC has this new “Watch ABC” app, which is all well and good. I love the idea of being able to watch past shows whenever and wherever you can. But here’s the thing. You have to be “verified”—you have to have subscribed to one of the approved service providers, otherwise, you don’t get to see ABC on your devices. I, like most of LA, has Time Warner as my service provider. Guess what? They are not on the verified list.

So suddenly what used to be free TV is now unavailable. If you don’t watch it in the moment, you’re screwed. I suppose it’s available on some service (Hulu+ or iTunes or somewhere), but it’s free TV which is now no longer accessible. Very frustrating. So I don’t know how many recaps I’m actually going to be doing this season. I used to just hop on my computer and rewatch whichever parts I needed to see again to write my reviews. But no longer!

I was trying to do just such a thing to watch The Bachelor: Women Tell All thing, which I missed because of that little Oscars event, and now can’t access it. So I’m not writing a story about it.

Sure hope these corporate giants figure this crap out someday. Don’t make it HARDER for us to watch something, jeez! Most people will just not watch. Plenty of other choices out there. 

Bad move, ABC.

However, I am thanking the stars every single day that Juan Pablo is not on Season 18’s cast. Good move, ABC.


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