If it weren’t for a certain getaway to sun-drenched Cabo, there might not be a “So You Think You Can Dance.”
The year was 2004 and Simon Fuller, creator of the international “Idol” franchise, had already tried to convince then-“American Idol” exec producer and longtime friend Nigel Lythgoe to help him develop a complementary show that revolved around competitive dance. Lythgoe’s blunt response: “I can’t see it working. Not in the slightest.”
But Fuller, who’d begun to ponder the idea after meeting with an executive at Dick Clark Prods. about relaunching the pop-and-dance classic “American Bandstand,” refused to take no for an answer. He invited Lythgoe on a “vacation” to Mexico where, remembers Fuller, “We got a boat, did some fishing, had a few drinks. By the end of the trip, we had the basis of the format nailed down, and Nigel was totally psyched.”
Adds Fuller with a laugh, “I think it was that bottle of Jack Daniel’s that really did the trick.”
The buzz has yet to wear off. Since its July 2005 premiere, “Dance” has been a bright spot on Fox’s summer schedule, frequently winning its Wednesday and Thursday timeslots in the coveted 18-49 demo. What’s more, the show — which whittles down the field by charging its young competitors to master myriad styles, from hip hop to Russian folk — has spawned a successful nationwide tour and more than a dozen editions of the series globally.
“Dance and music are really a global language, and you see that in ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ as it’s all over the world today,” Dick Clark Prods. prexy Orly Adelson says.
“When we started, a dance show was sort of a specialty item, and I didn’t know whether it could work on primetime,” adds Fox president of alternative entertainment Mike Darnell, “but it’s been an incredible player for us.”
According to co-creator/exec producer/on-air judge Lythgoe, a former dancer himself, the series has managed to cut through the reality-show clutter largely thanks to traits it shares with “Idol.”
“It’s that whole thing about getting involved with the creation of a star,” he says. “And watching the growth of these people, however things pan out, whether they’re successful or unsuccessful, there’s a beginning, middle and end to their journey. At the end of the day, that’s more important than the songs or the dances.”
As exec producer and Dick Clark Prods. exec VP of television Barry Adelman puts it, “You kind of emotionally adopt these kids as they go through the process.”
Of course, a striking ad campaign hasn’t hurt, either. According to Joe Earley, Fox’s exec VP of marketing and communications, the goal of the key art used for “Dance” billboards and in print ads is to convey not only the aspirational quality of the show but its youthful energy.
“The dancers are usually dressed in a way that’s very relatable, not in costumes or glitter,” he says. “Now that everyone knows the title, it’s become part of the dancers’ world. They’re dancing in it, through it, on it, so there’s a feeling of movement and strength.”
Thursday’s 100th episode of “Dance” will also mark the official launch of the Dizzy Feet Foundation, a charitable endeavor to support dance education in the U.S., and include a Judy Garland-inspired number from actress and Dizzy Feet board member Katie Holmes.
The network soon will test “Dance’s” stamina with a spot on the fall schedule. The prospects of stiffer competition and higher expectations have at least one player admittedly nervous.
“I never cease being nervous,” says Lythgoe, who plans to unveil a new set for season six. “In the end, you just do the best show that you can. If the public wants to watch, they’re going to watch. If they don’t, they won’t.
“But,” he adds, “we’re always going to come out swinging.”