Dancing with the Stars changes scores so judges might actually judge

Dancing with the Stars All-Stars debuts tonight, and producers have changed the scoring: now, judges can award half points, such as 7.5.

That is “to accommodate and reflect the higher degrees of difficulty and nuances in performance that this season’s All-Stars will bring to the dance floor,” according to an ABC press release. Executive producer Conrad Green said, “we thought it would help the judges to be able to make finer distinctions between performances this season.”

That’s all very nice and self-aggrandizing on ABC’s part, but I think ultimately this just reflects a problem with the show’s scoring system, and not the fact that it involves complicated math.

The problem starts with the fact that the judges tend to evaluate contestants relative to one another, which makes perfect sense, since they aren’t pros. If they were judging based on an objective scale, where 10 was the best possible dance by a professional, the scores would more likely collect on the low end of the scale. However, they collect on the high end because the judges are ultimately nice and/or because the studio audience would flip out if anyone ever got, say, a 1.

Basically, there’s grade inflation, and the scores are kept high.

Because of that, I think this change doesn’t do much except allow the judges to do their jobs and more objectively evaluate the dances. Let’s assume that these returnees are so good that they’ll all get 8, 9, or 10 on every dance. The new system means that instead of three possible scores, the judges now have six scores to work with, effectively judging them from 5 to 10.

So, producers just changed the scoring system instead of asking the judges to use the system they already had. Probably a smart idea, because competition show studio audiences get livid if any actual criticism, and scoring someone too low might result in a riot, although you’d think the Dancing with the Stars studio audience would have rioted by now over the pain caused to them by the live band’s music.

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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.