Casting boosts success no matter the locale

‘Dancing’ celebrates unlikely milestone | Format waltzes to riches | Tranter promotes BBC values on unscripted side | Costuming for ‘Dancing’ goes down to the wire

You know something’s a smash when the Guinness Book of World Records gets involved.

According to Guinness, “Dancing With the Stars” is the most successful reality show ever in terms of format sales, viewing figures and spinoff shows.

A genuine pop culture phenomenon where stars and politicians are happy to drop their guards and hoof it for the cameras, the show’s revenue to date for BBC Worldwide amounts to more than £260 million, a sum arrived at once ancillary product like fitness DVDs, themed-weekends, party dresses and makeup are factored in with production and licensing fees.

The format has waltzed its way into the schedules of broadcasters in countries as culturally different as New Zealand, Estonia, Bulgaria, India, China and Israel. Now licensed to more than 35 nations and screened in over 75, with more deals pending — and in its 11th and eighth season respectively in the U.S and the U.K. — the success of “Dancing” might boil down to one thing.

“The three most important reasons why ‘Dancing’ translates so well into so many overseas markets are casting, casting and casting,” opines Worldwide’s London-based executive vice president of international production Matt Paice.

ABC’s “Dancing” thrives, of course, on star power — the present season including “Dirty Dancing” star Jennifer Grey — though around the world, some competitors are cast deliberately for their lack of showbiz juice.

In Denmark, the prime minister’s wife appeared in season five, while in the current U.K. run, ex- Conservative Party MP Anne Widdecombe, a pillar of the British Catholic establishment, is generating a lot of media traction for the show.

Inevitably, local flavor is sometimes factored into the mix. In India, the influence of Bollywood is evident, while the South Africa version of ‘Dancing’ features local dances alongside the cha-cha, foxtrot and tango.

The program’s roots are deep, based on the somewhat staid and stuffy U.K. ballroom hoofers’ warhorse, “Come Dancing,” which, astonishingly, was first screened on BBC TV in the age of radio, in 1949. More than 50 years later, “Come Dancing” was reinvented for contemporary audiences as “Strictly Come Dancing.”

The trick was to spice the format up by adding some of reality TV pizzazz: filmed rehearsals and interviews with the contestants, a judging panel in which the arbiters ooze attitude, audience voting and, critically, a high celebrity quotient.

“Strictly Come Dancing” bowed in the U.K. in May 2004, before arriving five months later on Oz’s Seven Network. It was Down Under where, arguably, the format was given an extra coating of glitz.

“The Australians would like to claim that they reinvented ‘Strictly’ for the international market place,” says Paice. “That is a point of view, and who am I to deny them? Nowadays, the various international versions of ‘Dancing’ are almost competing with one another to make their show the glossiest and sexiest.”

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