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ABC's Two-Step Program

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, July 27, 2005

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., July 26

TV critics outraged at what they believe to be a fixed outcome on ABC's hit dancing competition series "Dancing With the Stars" stormed the Bastille -- I mean the ABC executive Q&A session at Summer TV Press Tour 2005 -- Tuesday and tried to cut off the head of entertainment division chief Steve McPherson.

For those who have been napping their way through the summer and missed the hit reality show, it paired C-list celebrities with professional dancers and forced them to perform such things as the cha-cha, the fox trot and something called a pasodoble for the chance to win a really ugly trophy.

Personable "Seinfeld" minor player John O'Hurley, a crowd fave throughout the competition, was by far the best dancer, which, granted, is not saying much since all were pretty dreadful.

But in the final episode, O'Hurley lost the coveted Really Ugly Trophy to Kelly Monaco, who just happens to star in an ABC daytime soap opera and who was so bad she redefined "can't dance." But Monaco wore increasingly skimpy costumes during the show, while O'Hurley was compelled to perform fully clothed, and if that doesn't prove the whole thing was rigged, I don't know what does.

Making things worse, the voting was incomprehensible: Judges gave numerical scores to each celebrity based on that night's performances; those were added to a numerical score based on viewers' votes on the previous week's performances, with the viewer votes counting for 60 percent of the total and the judges' votes 40 percent; the lowest scorer got booted. Or something like that, which you should consider an official disclaimer because, no, there will be no correction.

Even worse, after Monaco's final performance -- I did mention she can't dance? -- the three judges gave her perfect 10 scores. And after Monaco was awarded the Really Ugly Trophy, ABC announced she's going to have a guest-starring gig on its most popular series, "Desperate Housewives," this coming season.

The TV Column Presents: "Dancing With Steve McPherson."

Episode 1

Q. Who do you think won that competition?

A. I actually like Kelly, but I'm a guy. . . . You can't underestimate the power of the daytime audience.

Score: 3 . Very weak start, McPherson. You're going to have to up your game.

Episode 2

Q. Do you understand why some viewers think the fix was on, because [Monaco's] an ABC daytime star and now she's apparently going to do a guest shot on [ABC's] "Desperate Housewives," that at least the perception was, "Hey, no wonder she won" -- because we get that a lot from readers.

A. I love that people are so wrapped up in the show. . . . [John O'Hurley] is an incredibly charismatic guy and really played to the audience. That doesn't necessarily mean that he wins the dance competition. Not being a dance judge, it's hard for me to really say, "I looked at the steps and I really think that, in fact, he did outperform her."

Score: 7. Strong recovery with the "not being a dance judge" bit, which really put the critic in his place. Kudos.

Episode 3

Q. Will the judges stay the same?

A. Yeah, that's our plan right now.

Score: 2. Zzzzzzzzzzz

Episode 4

Q. You don't feel that last vote hurt them in the audience's eyes in any way, the coincidence of three perfect scores?

A. Not at this point, no.

Score: 1. "Not at this point"? You're hedging.

Episode 5

Q. Would you bar other ABC performers from the show?

A. We wouldn't bar them but, you know, we're casting the net as wide as we can. There's no need to have an ABC star. If that makes sense, we'll have one, but this isn't about having a show for cross-promotion purposes.

Score: 3. Now, what's the correct answer? Here's a hint: "Yes, from now on that's the plan." Critics are getting the upper hand. You've got to turn it around in the next episode.

Episode 6

Q. What about the scoring? Are you going to change that at all -- the last dance not figuring into the count?

A. We don't have a results show on this [series], so the final dance is judged the following week. I think there is something to be said for considering whether or not a results show on this make sense. And we haven't made that decision yet, but your feedback is really appreciated.

Score: 4, or 8. Depending on whether with that bit about "your feedback is really appreciated" you were being facetious. We'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you were, because you're wearing all black, and give you the 8. Congratulations. Nicely done.

Episode 7, Clip show

Q. On the finale, since the viewer vote wasn't really announced, do you know who won the viewer vote?

A. Yes, Kelly won the viewer vote.

Q. So if the judges hadn't given the score of 10 on the last dance and John O'Hurley had won [the judges' voting], it would have been the audience voted for Kelly and the judges voted for John. So who would have won that?

A. I believe the audience vote breaks the tie.

Q. Was that ever stated [on the show]?

A. I don't know, honestly, off the top of my head.

Overall score: 7. Points for honesty.

Episode 8 , Big Two-Hour Sweeps Special Finale

Q. What would you say to viewers who were just so disappointed in "Dancing With the Stars" that they say they'll never come back to look at it?

A. I hope that's not true. Should there be a rematch between the two -- would that satisfy people?

Score: 10. Answering a question with a question! You've really found a way and made it your own. Congratulations!

* * *

"That's really funny -- 'fraid not!" Monaco said late Tuesday during the "Dancing With the Stars" Q&A session, when asked about McPherson's idea of a dance-off.

"You want a dance-off, come on up here -- I'll give you a dance-off!" she snarled at the critic who'd asked the question.

She called her win "the most exhilarating moment of my life so far" and confided that she had agreed to go on the show despite the protestations of her actor pals because "I needed to light a match under my butt."

Another critic asked the judges whether they would, in future seasons of the series, bar ABC stars so as not to leave the network vulnerable to accusations the show was rigged if another one wins.

"I guess Trista wasn't part of ABC, huh? Oh, she was?" Monaco growled. (Trista Rehn Sutter, who competed on an early edition of ABC's pick-a-chick reality series "The Bachelor" and then starred in its flip-side show "The Bachelorette," was among the competitors on the dance series.)

And when another critic asked whether the judges thought the soap-opera fan base had turned out so strong for Monaco that her win was a foregone conclusion, Monaco shrieked, "John O'Hurley was part of a phenomenon: 'Seinfeld' -- 20 million viewers a week, still on the air in syndication! I'm on a soap that holds 2.5 million. You do the math!"

As to whether she was surprised by the negative reaction to her win, Monaco replied with her customary graciousness: "You guys are bombarding me -- I had no idea; this is an outrage!" then barked, "Of course I heard it. I read the tabloid magazines! I know -- ha ha ha ha!"

Want to bet when Monaco dances she leads?

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