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As song fades, nets do piroutte

Hoofers featured in latest brace of shows at TCA

As singing competition series battle viewer fatigue, a new batch of dance shows are stepping up to the bar.

The heat of hoofer TV could be clearly seen during the Television Critics Assn. press tour when broadcast and cable nets gave big PR pushes to a slew of new and returning reality skeins.

Cablers Oxygen and Ovation are going after young femme viewers with new entries “All the Right Moves” and “A Chance to Dance,” respectively. CW has weighed in this summer with “Breaking Pointe,” a behind-the-scenes look at a ballet company. Lifetime is mining “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition,” a spinoff of its hit “Dance Moms.”

Despite the proliferation of similarly themed shows, producers see the dance genre as a goldmine for niche outlets targeting femmes. While singing shows are generally aimed a wider aud, dance shows are buoyed by an intensely loyal base of devotees.

“With dance, there are much smaller genres and very passionate viewers,” says Nigel Lythgoe, the dynamo of dance TV who is exec producer of Fox’s long-running “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Chance to Dance.”

Lythgoe notes that more shows are in the works, including “Battle Cats,” a hip-hop series from Simon Lythgoe and “SYTYCD” alum Twitch, and talks of a Sarah Jessica Parker-produced look at the New York City Ballet.

On the scripted side, ABC Family has scored this summer with “Bunheads,” a dramedy revolving around a ballet school toplined by Broadway’s Sutton Foster. Elaborate dance numbers also were one of the major selling points of NBC’s tuner-drama “Smash,” and producers promise the footwork will only get fancier in the show’s second season next year.

ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” remains the highest-rated terp show, though its numbers took a hit in its 14th cycle this past spring. The series hopes to refresh its format and boost ratings with its first all-star season, bringing back fan faves to again compete for the title. “SYTYCD” is a solid summer player for Fox, averaging about 7 million viewers in its ninth cycle — most of them in the women 18-49 demo.

Even more than singing shows, dance skeins can easily be tailored to specific viewer bases. “DWTS” and “SYTYCD,” and even shows like “Glee,” “Smash” and “America’s Got Talent,” help stoke a general auds’ interest in dance, but it’s the subgenres of the discipline, like “Breaking Pointe’s” ballet emphasis and MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew’s” hip-hop focus, that are the next wave.

“(Dance on TV) is going to break up a little bit,” says Simon Lythgoe. “Younger viewers tend to obviously prefer younger dancing, more hip-hop, more breaking, so you design a show for them … and more classical styles obviously have a different audience. It’s not a bad thing to separate the styles, but at the same time, if you want to get the max audience, you have to appeal to everybody. Therefore you have to have a show that combines all of the styles,” such as “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“Dance shows are different from singing competitions because almost any movement can be translated into a dance,” says celeb choreographer Richard Jackson, who will be seated at the judges table for “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition.” “Dance possesses an advantage over singing skeins thanks to a visual aesthetic that holds universal appeal. Even during the Olympics, sports with elements of dance and graceful movement like figure skating and gymnastics routinely pull the highest ratings durings the Games.”

Television has done wonders in making the general public aware of the terpsicordian world, biz pros say. “A lot of people think, ‘Dance, why would I go see dance? It’s not for me.’ Well, suddenly you watch it on TV and think, ‘Actually, I quite like that,’?” says “Chance to Dance” hoofer Michael Nunn.

Yet, the genre still has strides to make, and Nigel Lythgoe has designs on drawing more male viewers. “The general appeal is to a female-skewed audience,” he says. “We’re going to have do a lot more to get men to watch.”

And what’s in the future for performance-based competition shows?

“Dance is far too niche as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “It will never reach the popularity of a singing competition show. Maybe, though, mixing the two together might — a triple threat show with singing, acting and dancing.”

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