Donny Osmond may have claimed Dancing with the Stars' Season 9 Mirrorball trophy, but it's not all's well that ends well for the once-robust ABC hit. Though its season finale scored a season-high 19.2 million viewers, it was the show's lowest-watched finale since the first-season coronation of Kelly Monaco, which aired during the slower summer months. Why might audience interest have flagged this season? We have a few ideas.
1. Bigger Is Not Better
Season 9 was touted as the biggest season ever, with a record 16 celebrity contestants. Expanding a reality show cast is hardly a novel idea, but 16 couples - three more than Dancing has ever had before - are just too many. It's difficult to keep track of everyone and get to know the lesser-known stars. And waiting for everyone to hit the floor was tedious. The large number required far too many two-hour episodes, which seemed to drag on so long you could forget who danced first by the time the night was over. The double eliminations didn't quicken the pace. What's the right number of couples? The 12 couples the show had for three seasons.
Dancing's hook is its motley crew of wannabe ballroom kings and queens, from crazy characters like Cloris Leachman to surprise contenders like Emmitt Smith and Gilles Marini. But the varied Season 9 crop never seemed to jell, and the personalities were relatively dull. The highlight (or lowlight) was Donny Osmond's awkward faux-smooch of Bruno Tonioli. Tom DeLay was supposed to bring some X-factor to this season, but his aw-shucks demeanor and early withdrawal did little to get people talking. Producers can't predict what's going to happen on the parquet, obviously, but they've always had a knack for rounding up an entertaining and rambunctious ensemble. Let's hope for a better one next time around.
3. Too Many Dances, Not Enough Dancing
A bloated cast isn't the only reason episodes have ballooned to two looooong hours. The show has burdened this season's pairs with too many dances. We get exhausted just recalling all of the relays, the group dance, the mambo marathon, team dances, knockout dances and the Mega Mix, so imagine how the contestants must feel rehearsing for up to three (and for the finale, four) dances a week. The multiple dances guarantee fewer stellar performances: It's no surprise that we didn't see the first perfect 30 this season until the third-to-last week.
4. Poor Dance Planning
In simpler times, the show featured two styles of dances each week for the first half of the season, which provided an easy and efficient way of keeping score and comparing abilities. In Season 9, the introduction of four new dances slapped us with four styles the first week; three in Week 2; two in Week 3; and four in Week 4. With a pair leaving every week, the distribution of the dances felt off, and stars ended up with either back-to-back weeks of similar dances or weeks without, say, a ballroom routine. Confused? That's because the system was plenty confusing.
5. Too Few Experienced Pros
Mark Ballas had to teach himself the Charleston before he could teach Melissa Joan Hart. Though they nailed the routine, it couldn't have been reassuring for her to hear that her professional partner had never performed the dance before. There's no denying that Ballas and his fellow twentysomething pros are talented, but are they experienced enough?
6. Judges Need to Judge
It's been said before, but it needs to be said again. Far too often, the judges make the show about their personalities instead of their judgment. We don't see how calling someone "beige" qualifies as constructive criticism. The flimsy and generic "I don't like what I see" review doesn't fly either. If they don't like what they see, judges should tell competitors what they do want. And we wouldn't mind seeing a few steps from three professional dancers. (Gyrating on top of a table with fringe pants draped over you doesn't count.)
What do you think? Can Dancing get its groove back before Season 10 hits the airwaves in March?