ABC programming chief Steve McPherson is so talented he can come up with a great stunt-programming idea while simultaneously fending off a couple hundred rabid TV critics.
The network announced yesterday that John O'Hurley and Kelly Monaco will go mano a mano on a 90-minute dance competition special, "Dancing With the Stars: Dance-Off" on Sept. 20 -- the first Tuesday of the new TV season.
O'Hurley, you'll recall, outdanced other C-list celebrities such as former model Rachel Hunter and ex-boy-bander Joey McIntyre in the summer series "Dancing With the Stars," but he was robbed of its Really Ugly Trophy in the final episode by ABC daytime hussy Monaco.
Monaco was a rotten dancer, the likes of which prime-time TV hasn't seen since Elaine on "Seinfeld."
But she was smart enough to cut down the size of her costumes to match the size of her dancing talent. Plus, she got votes from soap-opera fans who didn't care how bad she was, speculated TV critics who were outraged, and who, they said, had heard from lots and lots of viewers outraged as well.
The show's three judges also will return, only this time they don't get to vote. This is only fitting, they having lost all credibility after handing Monaco three perfect 10s for her final performance.
This time viewers have all the power, and the results of their voting will be announced two nights later, during a half-hour special on the first Thursday of the new season.
Back in July, when he appeared at Summer TV Press Tour 2005, McPherson was blasted with questions about the show's very confusing voting process, in which judges' scores from that week's performances were combined with viewer votes from the previous week's performances -- only the viewer votes counted for 60 percent of the final score.
Critics grew more agitated as McPherson performed a pasodoble around their questions, leading one critic to ask what he would say to viewers so dismayed by Monaco's win that they say they'll never come back to watch it again.
"Should there be a rematch between the two -- would that satisfy people?" he quipped.
And thus, a Premiere Week programming strategy was born.
Given that "Dancing With the Stars' " season finale clocked more than 22 million viewers -- the highest-rated summer series telecast since the "American Idol" finale back in 2002 -- yesterday's announcement might give pause to suits at the other broadcast networks, who had planned to debut new shows in those time periods.
On that Tuesday, for instance, while O'Hurley is once again dancing rings around that cat Monaco from 8:30 to 10 p.m., NBC will be running the second half of the season's second episode of "The Biggest Loser," premiering its new sitcom "My Name Is Earl" and debuting the second season of "The Office."
CBS, meanwhile, has scheduled the season debut of "NCIS" and its "Big Brother Whatevernumber" finale.
(Fox will air episodes of "House" and its new drama series "Bones" -- both of which will have debuted the previous week.)
On Thursday, opposite the dance-off results show, NBC will debut the next season of "The Apprentice" and CBS will kick off the next season of "CSI," while Fox will air the third episode of its new drama series "Reunion."
The real question -- unanswered by ABC as of press time -- is how the network got Monaco to agree to the rematch. After McPherson jokingly suggested it at the press tour back in July, critics asked Monaco if she'd be game.
"That's really funny," she snarled. "You want a dance-off, come on up here -- I'll give you a dance-off!"