ABC’s Dancing with the Stars was cut from two episodes a week to one for its 17th season, a change that seriously hurt Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. But improbably for a series that has always skewed old, both in its ratings and presentation, the show has improved significantly this season, and no longer seems like a show most suited to be shown on retirement home rec room televisions.
Some of these changes may have been introduced or tried earlier, and I admit that I have not watched every episode of every season, because I get bored easily. Other changes were probably forced or inspired by the shift to one episode a week. But the combination of these seven things is really working:
- Casting. This season’s group has shaped up to be the best cast in the show’s history. Even when big names and big personalities left early, the show remained strong.
- Not as much Brooke Burke. Fewer insipid questions, less awkwardness. Win.
- Not as much bad music. The live band’s mangling of pop songs was legendary and terrible, but the show has been increasingly using recorded music. It may cost more, but it’s definitely worth it, making the show seem significantly less old than it used to. Imagine Corbin and Karina’s awesome freestyle to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” if it was performed by the band instead of the original recording.
- Guest judges. The judges are doing their thing—Bruno still needs a seat belt to keep him from unnecessarily leaping out of his chair for every single critique—but throwing in guest judges keeps things unpredictable, whether it’s Cher (who didn’t quite know what was going on) or Maksim Chmerkovskiy (who seemed like he was on a quest to improve his image).
- Better set design. There’s been a significant upgrade to the look and feel of the dances in the ballroom, such as the reconstruction of a Saved by the Bell set or Bill Engvall’s badly acted recreation of Indiana Jones last night, complete with a cheesy but fun CGI mirror ball trophy boulder. Even the dances that don’t get set pieces get lighting design that changes the ballroom’s appearance significantly. It seems like there’s significantly more time, money, and effort going into presentation.
- Not segregating the contestants. The contestants now stand right next to the judges while being danced. Those who aren’t dancing or prepping for their dance are right next to the judges. There is no balcony or backstage area where the contestants are kept away, and the show benefits from keeping its actual stars front and center.
- An attempt to be better and younger. Reducing the show to one night a week definitely helped by eliminating filler. Beyond that, a lot of choices just feel like there’s conscious effort to make the show better—and appeal to younger viewers. Last night’s cold open, for example, a stylized and well-shot sequence set to Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” wasn’t the best thing ever. But it was better than the cheesier, more ABCish stuff the show has done in past years. The show hasn’t changed its DNA, but it has changed its wardrobe, and it’s really working well.
Duck Dynasty has become a ratings winner for A&E, and judging by all the products the network now sells—among other things, there’s a board game, cookbook, and brand-new Christmas album—it’s also doing well generating cash outside of advertisements.
In a press release announcing the Duck Dynasty seasons 1 to 3 “collector’s set,” out Dec. 3, Lionsgate Home Entertainment said in a press release that it is “the most successful TV-on-DVD franchise of the year, with over 2.5 million copies sold.”
But it’s a special Christmas DVD released earlier this month that may be the most blatant attempt to squeeze cash out of their scripted antics.
Duck Dynasty: I’m Dreaming of a Redneck Christmas was released Nov. 5, and features “Louisiana’s bearded, camouflaged millionaires gather to celebrate as only they can.”
While it’s just under $7, the DVD is actually nothing more than last December’s 44-minute season-two finale, which you can buy for $3. The DVD description does say it’s 50 minutes long, but it’s not clear what the extra six minutes may be, since Amazon reviewers confirm that it’s just season two’s Christmas episode—and the whole second season is just $10.
There is another option, though: A&E makes it possible to watch that same episode in just three minutes, and for free, thanks to its Duck Digest web series:
A new Funny or Die video starring George Takei as the host of a gay version of ABC’s The Bachelor offers a somewhat convincing, if stereotype-ridden and totally jokey, argument as to why a gay season of the show might not work structurally.
This parody, which stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson and has a few fun cameos, is not the best parody of The Bachelor ever—that would be the awesome Burning Love, which is now airing on VH1—but it has great moments, such as at the end when Takei says, “The first gay Bachelor: nope, there’s still not a black one.”
There were two fatal shootings at separate bars featured on Spike’s Bar Rescue early Saturday, including one that involved the owner of a bar that was to be featured on Sunday’s brand-new episode. Spike pulled the episode but later apologized for failing to pull repeats of the episode.
Country singer Wayne Mills was shot dead by Pit and Barrell owner Chris Ferrell, who “told police he shot Mills in self-defense following an argument over Mills smoking in the bar,” The Tennessean reports.
Spike apologized for airing the episode; it pulled the original broadcast of the episode, “Music City Mess,” but failed to pull repeats. A statement said, “We apologize to all those affected by the terrible tragedy over the weekend and to Jon Taffer, the production team, and our advertisers for our unfortunate human error.”
Bar Rescue Updates has screenshots of the episode, including of a sign at the bar that says “guns are welcome on premises,” and a closing title card that said “Chris has not lost his temper with his staff” since filming. The episode’s DVR description said it featured “a country music snob with an explosive personality.”
Mills, who Blake Shelton called “my old friend,” is survived by a wife and son, and the band is selling tribute t-shirts and soliciting donations to raise money for them.
Meanwhile, early Saturday at Second Base in Orange, Calif., KCAL reports that the 31-year-old victim has a 14-year-old daughter and “was with friends when a fight broke out in an enclosed parking lot prior to the shooting.” KTLA reports that “someone opened fire in a parking lot behind the building, according to the Orange Police Department. The incident began with an argument inside the bar, then spilled out into the parking lot.”
The bar, which was featured on the show in 2012 and was formerly known as Extremes Bar and Grill, replied to someone on Twitter asking about the killing and said, “you would have to ask authorities. You know as much as we do.”
recently on Twitter
Irene McGee is best known for her 1998 exit from The Real World Seattle: Citing her Lyme disease as the reason, she leaves the show, only to be hit in the face by a fellow cast member, Stephen, as cameras rolled. Now, 15 years later, Irene tells the story of her time on the series—not just of that moment, but of her disaffection with the production, which is the real reason why she left. It’s a must-read essay.
First, as to the famous scene began with Irene outing Stephen (he later came out as gay), which she writes is “one of the meanest things I have ever done to another person in my life.” She also says that it “was scarring and shocking, but in a way it was just a precursor to the kind of cruelty and violence that has become a necessary staple of reality television.”
Afterwards, Irene writes, “I had terrible nightmares for weeks, seeing a huge hand coming at my face and then staring at the camera crew who did nothing more than film while a female got assaulted in front of them.” Irene points out that MTV teased but never aired Snooki being punched, but today, “keeps gleefully airing” footage of her “getting hit in the face.”
Irene has no love for Bunim-Murray Productions or the people who worked on the show. Of her fellow cast members, she writes, “I hope they’re doing great; it’s the crew I have no respect for.” She writes about the ways in which the production tried to instigate conflict—creating suspicion between cast members during interviews; a mandatory job at a radio station that only had three on-air positions—all of which seem quaint by today’s standards of, you know, no standards at all.
Irene writes that her discussion of the crew’s “process” led to producers having a sit-down meeting. She also takes issue with what happened in post-production: the “narrative was that Lyme disease was making me delusional, which was unfair and cruel: Unfair to people with Lyme disease, and cruel to me.”
Perhaps most damningly, Irene writes, “Today, there is no end to the pain we now witness on reality TV. Cast members don’t have to be goaded by producers to fight, physically and emotionally; these wannabe-stars go in knowing that regular screaming, feuding, and hair-pulling is expected of them, and they want to deliver in order to get airtime.”
Also in her piece, Irene recalls a line that was partially included in the final cut: “They are using all of us. Art shouldn’t have to hurt. This is not art.”
That’s something every reality producer and network executive should have in poster form, hanging above the edit bay. It should be recited before shooting every day, and it should be the standard by which reality TV is judged.
The evil geniuses at Bravo are using a Facebook product to “scan private posts” of “100 million U.S. users, anonymously combining those into useful data about who’s talking about a specific topic,” Variety reports. Note how this new Facebook service uses private posts, not just public ones (although some people don’t seem to know what they share publicly on social media.) Bravo does that during Real Housewives episodes, and then uses that information to create on-screen information for its “social edition” repeats of the same episode, which VP Ellen Stone calls “richer information to keep fans engaged.”All of America’s Got Talent’s judges, including Howard Stern, will return next season. Phew.The Voice coach Adam Levine has been named People’s Sexiest Man Alive, a designation that just inspires mocking, as if the editors at People have actually considered every living person with a penis. For his part, Adam Levine told the magazine, “I was just amazed and stunned and it almost seemed like they were kidding, but they weren’t, so that’s cool.”Pat Rogers, a police officer featured on TNT’s Boston’s Finest, killed himself Tuesday. The Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen writes about him and says, “It says something about our culture that the only reason a lot of people know that Pat Rogers killed himself is because he was on a reality TV show.”Hulk Hogan says he was suicidal when Hogan Knows Best was cancelled by VH1 in 2007. He tells Oprah, “I was drinking alcohol very heavily. It just all kept piling up, it all kept mounting and mounting I didn’t know how to handle it. I always wondered how could someone possibly take their own life and so I got to that point where I said, ‘You know what, maybe this would be easy. You know, maybe this would be an easy way to fix things.’”The star of Animal Planet’s short-lived, one-season 2010 series Wild Recon, Donald Schultz, has pled guilty to selling two endangered monitor lizards for $2,500 on Facebook and without a permit. He has to pay $9,000 and do 200 hours of community service.Fox has announced a very strange schedule for its Tuesday nights in the spring, including one night, Feb. 18, when American Idol will take over the evening’s two hours. But there is good news: Brookly Nine-Nine, fall’s best new comedy, will stick around and get a better lead-in that that shitty Dads.An Israeli show called Rising Star is coming to ABC in the summer, because singing competitions have worked so well for the network in the past. The twist for the show is that it occurs in real time, with feedback and votes from viewers occurring while they’re singing.Discovery’s Wild West Alaska star Jim. V West was “charged with 17 hunting violations, including trespassing on Alaska Native lands while guiding a black bear hunt,” according to a newspaper. But it reports that West’s “attorney has questioned whether troopers might have busted him to boost their TV ratings” on National Geographic’s Alaska State Troopers.Bethenny Frankel’s terrible talk show had a brief ratings bump recently, and Bethenny said, “People are finding the show, they’re liking it, and they’re staying … the show is hitting it’s stride now, and like anything else, you can feel it. It’s an energy with the audience, the staff, the crew — it’s a great feeling.” But not for some guests, who accuse the show of ambushing guests. And despite that, the show is back to getting low ratings.Bar Rescue’s makeover of Scottsdale’s Stand Up Scottsdale left the club dealing with the city over a lack of permits for changes to the venue’s exterior. The Arizona Republic reports that the makeover on Tempe’s Rocky Point Cantina also didn’t have proper permits. But the paper does note that another venue, Chilleen’s on 17, helped the business, increasing sales by 90 percent thanks to the publicity—though its owner says they initially “thought we got screwed.”Buzzfeed’s Louis Peitzman argues that sitcoms need to stop with the mocumentary format and cease breaking the fourth wall for no reason, like The Michael J. Fox show does. I agree: emulating reality TV shows worked well for Modern Family, The Office, and Parks and Recreation, but it’s now just tired.Duck Dynasty’s Jep and Jessica are creating a fashion line.Also, here’s a 30-minute film about The Robertsons that is about “what happened before their immense success.”American Idol winner Carrie Underwood is starring as Maria Von Trapp in NBC’s live Sound of Music on Dec. 5; NBC has a look at the production, which basically seems wrong on every level.Mark your calendar for Tuesday at 7 p.m.: That’s the debut of Christmas Bounty, a movie produced by WWE Studios and airing on ABC Family and starring The Real World’s Mike “The Miz” Mizanin as a bounty hunter. You know, it’s a holiday thing. It’ll be on DVD Dec. 3 if you’d like to own this holiday magic for yourself. Here’s the trailer:
The strength of Survivor Blood vs. Water has given the show strong ratings that are leaving it as the number two reality show in the country, behind only The Voice, which airs on different nights. Survivor is far, far ahead of its timeslot competition, Fox’s The X Factor, which airs at the same time, and is, of course, terrifyingly bad.
CBS said in a press release today that the show “delivered its largest audience of the season” with “10.18 million viewers”; it also had a 2.5 among adults 18 to 49. In final ratings, Survivor almost doubled the viewers who watched Simon Cowell’s lousy show, which had 5.51 million viewers and a 1.7 in 18-49, although the numbers for X Factor are its ratings across its entire two hours, and at 9 p.m., it had even stronger competition from Criminal Minds and Modern Family.
Last week, Survivor was the 18th most-popular show and the second-most popular reality series during the week, behind a very strong The Voice. The NBC competition was the second most-popular non-football show last week.
How many times in the history of Survivor have we heard someone say, “it’s just a game” as a way to excuse hurting others feelings? Sure, it’s a game, but it’s also one that involves developing and then manipulating and/or betraying relationships with people, and we saw a completely atypical illustration of that last night.
Survivor Blood vs. Water gave us a big helpin’ of that kind of drama, thanks to the last remaining pair in the game, Laura M. and Ciera, who voted her mother out. It was a brutal yet necessary decision to save herself in the game, though it’s not clear if Ciera’s minor attempt to save her mother—by brilliantly lying in order to catch Katie in a lie about the hidden immunity idol, and then gently suggesting they dump Katie first—will make her a target, especially if Tyson becomes a target first.
Ultimately, the alliance decided a pair was a bigger threat than Katie. Their decision was clear when Probst showed one vote for Laura, one for Katie, and then another for Laura; clearly, there were no more Katie votes. But then he surprised us: the last vote was for “Laura (Mom),” and it was devastating. It’s well-known that Probst arranges votes to be as dramatic as possible, but considering his likely ecstatic response when he and other producers were reviewing votes and deciding to show that one last, I’m surprised that vote wasn’t stuck to the others.
While I’m dinging Probst, the episode began with a Very Special Episode of The Jeff Probst Produces Survivor Show after the duel—itself a surprisingly dramatic challenge as Tina pulled out a surprising early lead but lost it at the very last second, but came back to defeat Aras.
Probst tried to create a Moment between the brothers after Aras lost and was sent out of the game forever. In order to get Vytas and Aras to talk about their bond and how Survivor has affected it, I was actually surprised Probst didn’t just walk over and operate Aras and Vytas like marionettes. “Hi, I’m Vytas. I did drugs and hate my brother.” “Hi, I’m Aras. I do yoga and I hate my brother.” “We’re the Baskauskas Brothers and Survivor saved our relationship. Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo.”
Compare that unnecessarily heavy-handed scene to the one with Ciera’s confessional intercut with the difficult strategy conversation she had with her mother, which showed us everything we needed to know. We didn’t need Probst narrating it: Ciera: upset that she has to vote out her own mother! Yes, the music was manipulative and the editing carefully constructed, but there’s a difference between being well-produced and so over-produced it’s burned and inedible.
The conversation was one of the best in Survivor history in part because it was just so honest and straightforward. “I think I have a better shot of winning than you would,” Ciera said, explaining that if the alliance decided to vote out her mom, she’d join. Laura told the camera, “The fact that my daughter has the courage to say that to me, shows that she’s grown as a woman.” She also said, “that’s an amazing gift this game has given me.”
As much as I love the dynamics that Laura’s return created, I couldn’t help but cringe at Redemption Island’s consequences: 1) the lack of a reward challenge (I’m just not going to get over that, kind of like I will never think it’s somehow noble and smart to give up one’s reward, as Monica did after hanging on longer than anyone expected her to in the immunity challenge, which is more a metaphor for her life in the game than that snake was for anything that happened this episode), and 2) Probst telling Laura, “for the second time, the tribe has spoken.”
Incredibly, Laura may actually have a third opportunity to hear those words, since she has a pretty strong chance of returning to the game. So, I think, does her daughter, whether or not Ciera wins. Considering how many chances people get to play Survivor now, there was some nice comedy when Ciera was worrying about what to do and said, “I get one shot at this—one shot, and I don’t want to mess it up.”