ABC needs to get two things right this fall: 1) Launch Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.; 2) Relaunch Dancing With The Stars. The first one looks to be a slam dunk, given the anticipatory gushing over the series, and creator Joss Whedon, going on in the press and on fan sites. The second, however, is far from a sure thing — especially after the last fall’s disastrous all-star edition.
The veteran dance competition lives or dies based on its celebrity casting, and the producers botched it pretty thoroughly in both editions last season. Ratings plunged to an all-time low as the show competed against NBC’s The Voice for the first time in the fall with the all-star edition. Turned out, ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee acknowledged recently, viewers don’t want to see celebrities who can dance well competing — they want to see celebrities who can’t dance well, learning their right foot from their left. This had escaped the network and producers until it was too late. Any hope of real recovering in the spring edition fell flat with that edition’s limp cast. Andy Dick — really? Not surprisingly, the reality series only climbed back up to its second-worst numbers ever, though, yes, up is up.
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For this fall’s edition, ABC decided to bust Dancing down to one night per week, which at least minimizes its impact on the net’s primetime slate – now 9% instead of 14%. Even at one night a week, the health of Dancing is critical to the network. Good Morning America, for instance, enjoys ratings bumps when it features Dancing evictees, or any other Dancing-related segment. The series has been credited helping GMA take the lead from NBC’s Today in the morning infotainment ratings race. Last spring, for instance, when the Dancing cast was announced on GMA, on the morning after GMA’s post-Oscar Night broadcast, it created quite a stir, because it marked the first time GMA had beat Today by more than 1 million viewers on two consecutive nights in 18 years.
ABC unveils Dancing’s next cast on GMA on September 4. But a mess of names started making the rumor mill rounds today: Leah Remini, who’s been making headlines over her exit from Scientology; newly slimmed-down mom Snooki; etc. ABC execs are not commenting, because they’re not fools, but the flurry of press reports is a good sign that, despite last season’s back-to-back missteps, the media still is interested. That’s a start.