Every summer should have one — either a movie or a song, a play or a TV show that’s souffle-like enough to satisfy the frothy expectations of distracted but ever-hungry auds.This season’s crown belongs to ABC’s unlikely hit “Dancing With the Stars,” whose finale July 8 attracted 22 million viewers, and whose six-week rout of the competish had folks at that network, well, dancing in the aisles. It’s the biggest summer hit since “Survivor” hit the CBS airwaves five years ago. It’s also one more reason why the Alphabet will be remembered as this year’s comeback kid. Cheesy it was, but also cheeky. “Is there a death in the family? Your face: It’s like somebody died,” judge Bruno Tonioli told contestant Kelly after her first attempt at a samba. “You’re wiggling your way across the floor instead of dancing,” another opined of another contestant’s contortions. But the vulgar, the villainous and the vacuous that characterize most reality shows were nowhere in sight. This hybrid harkened back to a simpler time of taffeta, tears and mild titillation: As one ABC exec put it, “It’s ‘American Bandstand’ meets ‘Survivor’ meets ice dancing.” Watching over-the-hill boxer Evander Holyfield go through the quick-step egged on by his demanding trainer-partner or former “Bachelorette” Trista twist herself through a tango was, for viewers young and old, worth the price of admission. To hear a judge exclaim to finalist John O’Hurley “John — you’ve got hips” or for the other finalist Kelly Monaco to complete a Cinderella-like transformation and claim the crown was satisfying on several levels. And even though mounting a summer hit is like catching lightning in a bottle — and a few net rivals were dismissive that the show skews too old and female — most are bent on trying. Fox has an upcoming show called “So You Think You Can Dance?” and there’s a feature film doc “Mad Hot Ballroom” preparing to go wide. Not that any of the webheads immediately saw the potential of “Dancing,” since Brit hits like “Coupling,” “Cracker” and “The Kumars at No. 42” fell flat Stateside. “I, too, passed on the concept three times,” ABC’s exec VP of alternative programming Andrea Wong admits. “But the producer (Richard Hopkins) persisted. We all watched an original episode. We saw it was about a lot of things, not just ballroom dancing, but celebrities, suspense, sequins. It’s about relationships, and it’s sexy.” The original version was a big hit on the British pubcaster this past season. The Beeb has licensed the format in 14 other foreign territories and execs are now pitching U.S. nets on a number of their other formats. ABC execs say they’re planning a second season of “Dancing With the Stars” — probably for midseason — and sticking to the same format, pairing celebs with professional hoofers. Trick will be trying to maintain class, sass, kitsch and klutziness as competition on other channels gets tougher. As for the current contestants, it’s hard to know where they go from here: “American Idol” stars and runners-up can sing — so they at least get record contracts; “Survivor” contestants make the rounds of talkshows before they fade back into obscurity. Agents for both O’Hurley, who played J. Peterman on “Seinfeld” and was the most quick-witted contestant, and Monaco, who’s a regular on “General Hospital” and was the most determined contestant, insist that thanks to “Dancing,” their clients will have series pilots come next season.
- Triptyk Studios, New York, New York
- Petrol Advertising, Burbank, California
- Bridgewater Associates, Westport, Connecticut
- Company Confidential, Aspen, Colorado
- Save the Children, Fairfield, Connecticut