Dancing with the Stars defends its controversy-free, star-free (ratings-free?) cast

The 14th season of Dancing with the Stars starts tonight, and for its debut against strong competition in The Voice–the two shows face off over two full hours–the ABC show has stacked the deck with a controversy-free, celebrity-free cast.

Host Tom Bergeron said that having “a very-feel good season” was intentional “to evoke in our fans a feeling of nostalgia.” He also told TV Guide, “Having a controversial cast member is another arrow in your quiver and you can always use that when you think it’s a good idea. I think coming off a season or two where we had used that arrow … that it’s smart to take a breather, take a detour that in some ways harkens back to the earlier seasons.”

The show’s senior producer, Deena Katz, told USA TODAY, “It doesn’t have to be the biggest name. It’s who you fall in love with on the show.” She pointed out that unknown cast members often turn out to be fan favorites–including last season’s winner J.R. Martinez. “When J.R. was announced, I had so many people saying to me, ‘Who is this? You have to Google him.’ But the idea of the show is that by the end, you’re enjoying people you never knew.”

That’s definitely a good point, and undoubtedly some of the cast members will surprise viewers. But one major function of the lighting rod cast member is that it prompts people to tune in. And with younger audiences flocking to NBC–really! At least for The Voice. And in an NBC-sized flock–it might be a hard sell to convince them that it’s worth checking out.

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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, 37, 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.