Clearly reluctant to pull a “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and dip into the “Dancing With the Stars” well too often, ABC does the next best thing by spinning off “Dance War,” a transparent six-week stop-gap measure. The two-hour premiere, though, suffered from a hodge-podge quality — a pinch of “So You Think You Can Dance” here, a dollop of “American Idol” there. “Dancing” judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli pluck the familiar chords for all they’re worth, but inasmuch as everybody has seen these steps before, this is a “War” with a flawed battle plan.
Like “Dancing,” derived from a British format (something called “DanceX,” what sounds a bit like a laxative), the new show has the feel of an old-time variety special, lacking only Dean Martin and the Golddiggers. Yet the actual “war” didn’t even begin Monday, as Tonioli and Inaba went through the “Idol”-like ritual of whittling down contestants in New York, L.A. and Nashville to 30 and eventually 14, who performed — live! — before being divided into teams next week.
With performers who can sing and dance sought, the auditions yielded the customary thrills of victory and agonies of defeat, a bit like a reality version of “A Chorus Line” minus the songs. In a shock, one overweight gal even captivated the judges momentarily, before they settled on an assortment of flat-bellied size 2s. Indeed, with so many initial contenders, it was easy to forget their names and identify them strictly by body parts.
Preliminary ratings for “Dance War” were respectable if well short of “Stars” territory (the tag-team competition included BCS football and “American Gladiators”), but that could help keep the lights on for ABC until the real thing arrives.
In that respect, the show’s a pretty good metaphor for where all the networks appear to be in terms of programming strategy during the writers strike — operating off a flimsy blueprint and dancing just as fast as they can.