Insulting copycat Live to Dance needs to die

Paula Abdul’s Live to Dance, which debuted on CBS last night, is the worst kind of plagiarism: it’s like the student who changes a word or two from an essay they’ve copied off the Internet, thinking that’s enough to trick a teacher into not noticing that the rest of it is very familiar and obviously not original work. The new series is nowhere near the level of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Got Talent, both of which it rips off blatantly; instead, it’s like Skating with Celebrities, ABC’s sad but misguided attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Dancing with the Stars.

Paula is actually the least offensive part of this. While I was not looking forward to her return to reality TV, she’s who she was at the end of her time on American Idol: cheerful, repetitive, supportive at all costs, seal-clappy. Her best moment was telling one little girl–and, indirectly, her parents–to not wear so much makeup next time. As I wrote on Twitter last night, I do think there’s potential for Paula’s talents to be well-used on a reality series, but this is not it.

The whole thing is such a disaster it’s no wonder it’s only airing seven episodes. Producers at Reveille, who should know better, have made a cheap, derivative talent competition. Those who make it through are on “the short list” instead of “through to Hollywood/Las Vegas”; instead of America’s Got Talent‘s red Xs, we have red or gold stars. I kind of like that the judges’ decisions are revealed instantly and all at once, but that’s the only new thing they’ve added to the formula, and we still have to suffer through a ludicrous pause and then hear each judge explain their decision.

I’d give the series more time to find itself–perhaps the live shows will be significantly different–but with just seven episodes, it doesn’t have that chance. And it doesn’t deserve one, either, because so much of it is just insulting: the flimsy set design, the predictable parade of contestants and their Important Stories, the young and old contestants with no chance; the pointless banter with the bland host, and the judges reversing their decision apparently based on the audience’s reaction, which immediately undercut any credibility they had.

A better series would have had more fun with a contestant like Stone Fleshman, the dancing flight attendant with the porn star name, but Live to Dance is trying so desperately to take itself seriously as the arbiter of good dance and feel-good TV that it missed that opportunity. The show has borrowed so much from other competitions that it doesn’t have its own identity, and so it just tries to squeeze emotion out of us that doesn’t exist.

Primarily, it juiced up the audience cheer track–CBS loves manufacturing crowd sounds lately, like Undercover Boss‘ fake “oohs” when the boss reveals he went undercover and the actual crowd stands there with mouths closed. The crowd’s over-eager cheering that made little sense, and not just because the cameras rarely showed the actual audience; for a while, I didn’t even think they were really there. How exactly was the audience so invested in people they’d never seen before? On AGT, it makes sense for the audience to go crazy nuts when they see something like Fighting Gravity for the first time, but this crowd was more nuts than an American Idol crowd, and all for mediocre dancers. Please.

After one audition, Paula Abdul told one failed auditioner, “Show us something we’ve never seen.” If only her series would do the same.

Live to Dance: D

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.