How to Fix DWTS – An Open Letter to Producers (Part 2)

This post is part 2 of a new series where I basically tell the producers of DWTS how they should change the show. Cuz I’m bossy like that. :-)  If you want to read part 1, you can find it here —> How to Fix DWTS Part 1  A reminder for those easily induced into righteous indignation – this is NOT about the various couples but about the JUDGES and the Producers – I’ve provided examples of problems that I remember from season to season. If you get your knickers in a twist about Melissa or Shawn or Mya or Nicole or Maria, I’m not going to waste time arguing with you, I’m going to call you names (maybe to myself, maybe publicly – we’ll see) and then ignore you. Keep it on topic.

Dear DWTS Producers (cont.)

Scoring – to keep the “better” dancers over the “not so much” dancers.  “Better” being highly subjective. This is another common problem that many of us have seen on the show in the mid weeks of a season.  Say you have a dancer named Hope. She’s not a great dancer, but she’s explosive when paired with the bad boy of the ballroom – good for controversy and smack talk if not much else. Well, you want your show to be talked about and there are much more “disposable” celebrities on at the same time, so what do you do?? Well, of course, you pad Hope’s scores to give her just enough of a boost that she sticks around for a couple weeks, even if there are better dancers (such as Kristin, Chynna and even David – well, maybe not “better”  in David’s case, but certainly more charming) that are at risk of leaving. Ya gotta have your ratings, right?  Now, when all the disposable celebs are gone and you start scoring Hope for real, what happens?? Well, both Hope AND her fans and the rest of the audience are saying, “Wait a second. Last week I got a much better score for a dance that wasn’t as good as this one.”  And the conspiracy theories abound. And with good reason, right?  Hope’s not even the best example of this – I’m sure my readers can come up with good-ish dancers who were intentionally over scored just so they would stay longer than the really crappy dancers, only to start getting lower scores in the later weeks – so that the *great* dancers would survive.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Of course, they don’t always get worse scores in later weeks.  I have to wonder just how much protecting of Melissa was done early on for dancing that wasn’t that great.  She got a 37 (out of 40) on a Jitterbug in week 4 that had seriously messy lifts (the in and outs mainly) – one of which was almost a fall. It kinda makes me laugh cuz Shawn was picked on for “tricks” yet this dance was ALL tricks and any dancing there was was simplistic.  CAI, Len and Paula even called them on it and they still got a 37. She got a 27 the week before on a samba that was just too precious – and a 30 when they re-danced it and she did no better on it. Me thinks they were terribly afraid of Kirstie and Emmitt, early on, when it came to Melissa, and they were pulling a Maria late in the season (see below). Except for the very last one (maybe) her tangos and pasos were routinely over scored – so soft. :::shrug::: Hope and Melissa are far from the only examples. Maria was overscored on her Jive (if Shawn had danced that dance, Len would have decimated her), either to let her be eliminated with a high score (dangerous) or because they were hoping (strangely) that she could get past Donald, who they clearly didn’t care for much.  I always thought her salsa was overscored as well.  She was definitely a better dancer than many of the others in week three, when the salsa happened, but I imagine there was some doubt as to the strength of her fanbase.  The judges/producers seem to have so many goals, it’s hard to keep track of. One of them has to be making sure the better dancers with questionable fanbases make it to the end over the crap dancers who are popular.

The Fix?? STOP IT. Score the damn dances and let the chips fall where they may. ANYONE – an Apolo fan, a Melissa fan, a Chelsea fan, a Maria fan – can handle an early elimination if the system seems fair. The system you have now is obviously not fair. If the scoring is clearly accurate (per *established* and *published* rules – which of course means you’ll have to use the 2 and 3 paddles)  and everyone knows the rules…you eliminate a lot of backlash.  Only the wingnuts would have their panties in a twist, as opposed to a massive chunk of the audience.  Of course, you will also have to fix your own system and establish criteria….Heh. We’ll get to that.

Scoring – as a dramatic effect or a “story”. But even worse than the above is when you pimp the hell out of a good dancer with NO fanbase to speak of, and run down a good/great dancer with a huge fanbase – all for the sake of DRAMA and making the show into a horserace where no one is running away with the competition. That was very obviously done this past season where Melissa never heard a bad word and was getting 30’s left and right, while a just as good (many say much BETTER) dancer in both Shawn and Apolo couldn’t seem to put a foot right – with Len, at least, in Shawn’s case.  Apolo never broke the rules, was just as good a dancer as Melissa, but couldn’t win with the judges. Shawn broke the rules once but the rest of the time was seriously amazing choreography, that was often MUCH harder than Melissa’s, executed nearly perfectly.  Was the innovative choreography that was perfectly executed rewarded?? Only rarely. Instead, CAI cried lift where there wasn’t one. Len whined about Cows and tractors that played no part in the actual dance. There was whining about not enough dancing “in hold” and just plain underscoring with no real critique to go with it. CAI whined about Apolo’s chemistry with Karina along with general nitpicking (like Apolo slipping and getting marked down, yet the BTS shots on the results shows show Len and Bruno talking about Emmitt slipping but saying they don’t care – that happened at least twice, think the other one was Gilles)…the list goes on.  I don’t think Shawn’s actual technique was EVER criticized, but Derek’s choreography – that is very likely Emmy worthy (again)-  sure as hell was.  You can point out plenty of technical flaws in Melissa’s dancing (if you WANT to), but in Shawn’s you can only pick on the choreo…so who’s the better dancer??  Much of the audience would now say Melissa…or they would say, “Shawn broke the rules all the time.”  But is either actually TRUE?? Second one definitely isn’t. First one is highly debatable.  Logic dictates that if they were technically equal then Shawn would have gotten some criticism on technique. But she didn’t, as far as I can remember.  Shawn and Apolo aren’t the first to experience this – I don’t know if Len is the designated spoiler or what, but go back and look at the scores Len gave to both Mya and Nicole – probably the two best dancers (besides Shawn) to ever be on the show. Both regularly got smacked by Len. I’m sure there are more great dancers that were intentionally run down so as to keep the show “exciting”. You’re not going to try to claim that Nicole and Mya broke the rules every week are you? Cuz that’s a lie. But from week one on, Mya’s scores were the following from Len: 5, 9, 7, 8, 9, 7, 7, 10/10, 9/10/10 and 10/9. Mya’s scores also illustrate the previous point – the judges getting “real” in week 8 such that the previously OVER scored also get bitter. But you want to tell me that Mya REALLY went from 7s to a 10s in one week? No.  Granted, Donny was more entertaining and Mya was kinda boring, but she was a hell of a dancer.  Nicole got a similar treatment from Len: 7, 8, 6, 8, 9, 7, 9, 9/10, 10/9, 9/10 – the 6 was the week she broke the rules. Seriously, though, how can anyone with a straight face claim that Derek is favored when he is punished much more harshly than reasonable for rule breaking? That Emmy nominated quickstep only warranted a 23 from these judges?? So much for a one point deduction for breaking the rules, eh?? Ah, I digress again. This will be covered in the section entitled Get a damn rule book for the judges. :-)

Anyway, the problem here is two-fold. First, after 7 or 8 weeks of this “story”, the audience starts to believe it.  They say they don’t – yet, like in politics, they will spout stuff that Len says on this web site and others as if it were absolute fact.  “You’ve been dancing freestyle all season” (CAI to Shawn in the finals). Horse sh*t. Do you think the audience is swayed to voting one way or another?? Well, I can tell you, an awful lot of people voted against Obama because “he’s muslim” – something like 35 to 40 percent of Republicans polled believe that. And it’s utter bullshit. But repeating the myth ad nauseum works on a segment of the population. It works in politics and it works on DWTS.  So, in your quest to pimp Melissa (and Erin, Chelsea…etc.) to make sure that the season is “most competitive EVER!!” – this season it finally worked against you.  And it may keep working against you if you keep at it. Maybe you don’t care – but maybe you do because you know the Law of Diminishing Returns. Hence all the “insider” talk of big changes to upcoming seasons. Don’t get me wrong – Melissa is a beautiful dancer (much of the time), as is Sabrina (most of the time) and Chelsea. Erin? Not so much, but whatever.  But the way you score them you make it seem like they are equal when in reality they aren’t even really close. No, I don’t think that’s my own bias talking, but I’m sure some will disagree.  The judges made it seem like Erin and Nicole were in the same ballpark.  I had some issues with Sabrina’s dancing at times – but she was better than Melissa, as was Apolo.  Even in the finale, Melissa was too tentative and soft – but the scores didn’t indicate any such thing. It was made to sound like she, Kelly and Shawn were neck in neck in terms of dancing.  Her instant dance was horrendous, but the judges gave all 9.5s – same as Kelly who actually danced better and only 1.5 points below Shawn who was AMAZING. And Melissa even had a leg up, since she was doing a dance that allowed her to recycle choreo (and we have it on good authority that that’s exactly what she and Tony DID).

So, as a result – you are now hearing some backlash. It’s no shock you’re getting beaten by The Voice. A huge portion of the audience is saying “what the hell” OR “Well, poor Tony had never won, so that’s nice.” The story boarding caught up to the judges in the last week. I saw CAI’s face when the winner was announced.  Sometimes, your stupid storyboarding combines with another factor that you ignored (“Poor Tony, he’s never won.”) and causes an “upset”.  I’m sure you fully expected Donny to win because anyone over the age of 35 knew his fanbase was massive – but maybe if Len hadn’t been a butthead all season to Mya (until week 8, anyway) she would have won. I found her boring but I don’t think you can deny she is a better dancer than Donny. No, it’s not just about dancing – it never has been – but do you need to make it WORSE?? Because that’s what you’re doing. Len can’t sit in his chair and whine about a shocking elimination of Sabrina when you’ve done nothing but over-criticize her (relative to others) since week 1 (more so in her original season).  Some crazy people actually believe what you say.

The second problem here is actually likely the bigger one, although Shawn fans might disagree.  The problem is not just that the story you’re building for Drama is a house of cards, but that the story inhibits choreographic risk taking. No one on that show takes real risks other than Derek and Mark – and maybe Karina. Maybe people ARE tired of seeing the same Cheryl Burke Cha Cha over and over and over and over again. Maybe that’s why some have turned away from the show – it got old and stale (and they can see the judges are full of shit).  Well, gee – these professional want to WIN and to WIN they need good scores just as much as they need audience votes – anyone with a lick of sense knows that. That leads to little to no risky choreography. Every time you smack the crap out of Derek Hough (or Mark) and give him a 6 for a brilliant freakin’ dance, you make the other pros LESS likely to get really creative.  (Go back and watch Mark’s rule breaking Wizard Waltz – also Emmy nominated – for proof. Mark caved and changed the choreo in the finale to please the judges.) Not only that, but you make the audience less likely to believe you. A “reality” show isn’t worth the time if it doesn’t even TRY to be a little real.  Some would argue that the other pros don’t have the chops to really get creative – but how would we know?? They aren’t willing to take the risk most of the time, because they just can’t be sure that the hammer won’t fall on an AMAZING dance.  As a professional dancer, if you KNOW that you’ll get a great score if you have your male partner undo or remove his shirt while you do a BASIC cha cha, what are you going to do?? A basic Cha Cha.  To make matters worse, you institute a “theme” night and the judges (or just Len) hammer a couple who actually sticks to the theme, yet still does the assigned dance. This couple, because of the theme, adds elements that make the theme obvious. Great dance – crap score because Len has his head up his ass. And that’s the end of that – the desire to add extra elements is diminished for fear of getting a crap score and getting sent home.  One pro uses a tractor and a cow, the other uses a stagecoach – only one is severely punished.  If the pro’s name isn’t Derek or Mark, how likely is it that you’ll see a creative and exciting dance next time around?? Pretty unlikely. Obviously. Worst of all, you have pros criticizing other pros for their creativity and have them acting all proud of the fact that their choreo is within the “rules” (ie basic and often boring) – when the pro being criticized only broke the rules ONCE and as a couple they will be the ones remembered a couple years down the road.  Does not sound like a group of dancers inspired to really blow it out of the box next time they have a great partner (ahem, Tony) – with the notable exception of Val.  (I’m hanging my hopes on Val and Henry, frankly, for good to great choreo in the coming seasons, assuming Derek is absent.)

The Fix??  Well, all of the above problems (including those in Part 1) kind of swirl through and around the show and get all mixed together. It’s often hard to tell what is storyboarding, what is leveling for the sake of drama and what is protecting the “good” dancers (or the ratings grabbers).  It’s hard to tell. It’s all mixed up together and going on at the same time. But there is one way to alleviate some of it. Quit playing games, give the judges a rule book and post that rule book on your website. Make it CLEAR. Quit screwing around!!

For example – what is a lift and when will you be penalized?? This is the most egregious “rule” that CAI imposes on a very erratic and subjective basis.  A lift is supposedly a move where both of the dancer’s feet come off the floor in a manner in which they couldn’t without their partner. Well…then Derek jumping into Nicole’s arms or Shawn jumping into Derek’s clearly is not a lift. They jumped. How is that different from Derek standing there while Nicole wraps her leg around Derek and pulls herself off the ground? It’s not. And really, when it is CLEARLY an accident and not a planned lift?? Give it a rest. There is no need to be wagging your finger at some couples for a move that was designed for both feet on the floor. Especially when CAI conveniently doesn’t see it happen A LOT – only when it fits the story.  Dump the weasel words in the rule: “at the judge discretion.” These judges have shown they have little to no common sense OR discretion, so spell it out for them and the viewers.  A lift is when you purposely throw in a move where you lift your partner off the ground – see example A: Derek and Shawn’s quickstep; the move at the end. THAT was a lift. And really, if the dance is over?? STFU. Or at least be consistent from one season to the next. You called Mark and Shawn on a lift at the very end of a dance but thought it was sweet so you didn’t dock them. Derek and Nicole did a similar move at the end of their Final Rumba (when Derek thought the music was over) and you DID dock them on it.  If they do a lift?? Dock them ONE point. Not one point per judge, ONE point.

Another example – Derek uses a tractor while they are being announced (not during the dance), Tony uses a bench and a campfire (during the dance), Val uses a stagecoach, Maks drives a mini cooper on to the stage. Only Derek and Shawn are called out on it – but you didn’t call them on the red lights and the jackets during the Knight Rider Bhangra.  All couples used props on a THEME night – they often do on all seasons. YOU have to pick – either get rid of the damn theme nights or STFU about the props used during theme nights – you can’t possibly have it both ways and look like you’re not insane.  And when you specify “country” don’t criticize one couple for a couple country moves mixed in with their Cha Cha. When it’s NOT theme nights?? Don’t call out one couple for too much “fussing about” at the beginning of the dance and completely ignore when a dancer sits on her butt licking a lolly pop  in the audience while her pro partner dances around for x number of bars – IN THE SAME NIGHT.  Even Len’s memory can’t be that bad. This happens season after season after season – not just this past one.

Not enough dancing in hold by one couple?? How about you set a RULE for how much in hold dancing there has to be and then judge ALL couples the same way? Seriously, between Len’s rules and CAI’s rules and their ability to only hold certain couples accountable to those rules in a given night, it’s a wonder their own heads haven’t exploded at this point.   The inconsistency is the single biggest problem with this show. Pick nearly any criticism of ANY couple on a given night and I almost guarantee you can find another couple on that same night who did the same thing who wasn’t called on it.  There have been instances where CAI called someone out on a lift where I then counted 2 or 3 similar accidental lifts by other couples that she completely missed. Conveniently.

Are you taking notes? Because if you use MY way to score DWTS, the judges are going to need a checklist to score the dances. :-)  That’s actually not a bad idea, now that I think about it…

For each dance, publish the syllabus for that dance. If they don’t do at least 70% of the syllabus moves, they can’t score higher than an 8, no matter how good the man’s chest is and no matter how much improvement the celeb has shown from the prior week.  BUT, if they do 70% of the syllabus but leave out your favorite move, you don’t get to dock them any points. If Len is insistent on samba rolls in every Samba, then that has to be posted in the rules at the beginning of the season, along with the definition of a lift (sans weasel words), how much in hold there has to be for a given style, and when and if props are allowed (and so on). Then, if they break the posted rules, you can dock them ONE point. But if it’s not in the rules – and American Smooth doesn’t require as much “in hold” as Len likes – you can complain, but you can’t take points off.   Then give each judge a checklist for each style of dance so they can keep track. Post it on the website so your viewers can play along and score the dances themselves. It might actually be FUN to have an official Samba (or Tango or Paso) checklist. Particularly if you do what you’re already doing on lots of nights – having the troupe do examples of the dance for a given night. Really, the success of these sorts of shows is in large part due to audience participation – why not add more? You certainly fool people into believing they have a say who’s going to be on a every season to the point they spam twitter with campaigning.

Frankly, I think if you set some hard goals for each dance and publish the “do’s and Don’t”, you might actually get more creativity out of the pros – and hence, new choreography. If they know that Len can’t punish them for walking across the floor for so many bars because they have 80% of the Rumba syllabus in their dance, they might actually come up with new ways to do things.  And maybe they won’t. I guess it would be a test for the pros too.

To be continued in part 3…I’m  not even close to done ranting… :-)