Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Skating with the Stars" Week 5: It's a Wrap... Forever?

Sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly to do with the enthusiasm you see.

Tanith Belbin possessed said enthusiasm. So did Johnny Weir, Melissa Gregory, and Jennifer Wester, to name a few others.

They’ve all posted countless excited Tweets over the past 6 weeks surrounding Skating with the Stars (or, as some put it, “Skating” with the “Stars”), and Weir in particular has gushed endlessly from his judge’s perch about what he’s witnessed from the likes of Rebecca Budig and Jonny Mosely. Maybe it was a contract requirement of all those named above. I mean, they could have been just that thrilled about being a part of the experiment that was SWTS… I suppose it’s possible…

But as with just about every other TV program to skim the airwaves, I suspect the ratings will dictate SWTS’ future—which is to say it doesn’t likely have one. The Monday overnights this week had SWTS at 4.8 million viewers, but we can’t hold those as accurate because both Chicago and Minnesota’s ABC affiliates chose to air the ESPN coverage of the Bears/Vikings game. The 3.4 million listed as watching the Tuesday finale—that’s the better number to go with.

Do you know how the last two eps played out? That Bethenny Frankel snared more votes than Jonny Mosely, forcing him from the event and prompting the promos to quickly shift from “The Natural vs. The Athlete” to “The Natural vs. the Underdog”? Or that the rest of the original cast, save for Brandon Mychal Smith (who sat in the front row and watched instead), came to help pad out the final episode by strapping on their skates one more time? Or that Frankel pulled down her first “10” (although no one told her it didn’t really count because it came from Laurieanne)? And that, in one of those endings that surprises no one, Budig emerged victorious? (By the way, her wrist hurts. Not sure if everyone got that message.)

Whether you knew how they went or not… it didn’t really matter. And that’s the problem with a show like this, which some Facebook friends of mine likened to an SNL sketch rather than a valid viewing choice. I myself deemed SWTS “relatively harmless” last month—and I’ll stick with that description, though I’d like to make a few suggestions should it miraculously get picked up for another mini-run the way The Sing-Off did:

+ Stop taking it all so seriously. Budig got it right when she said something upon winning about “knowing it’s only TV, but it’s still fun” (paraphrasing). Part of the reason Dancing with the Stars works is because its found its own kind of silly, irreverent groove amidst the over-the-top costumes and predictably dramatic editing on the fluff pieces. Maybe that’s more to ask than SWTS could’ve delivered in just 5 weeks, but hey, the prototype was literally right across the lot… and it was produced by the same folks…

+ Less focus on the injuries, please. Without a doubt, part of the attraction of figure skating is the danger involved within its maneuvers. But when we watch a real skater miss a quad, or a pair blow the timing on a lift, we subconsciously take comfort in the thought that they are trained athletes who most likely have prevented themselves from serious injury. The same cannot be said of celebrities who have only been at this for a mittenful of weeks—whether they sustain the injury themselves (Buddig’s wrist) or prompt it on another (Mosely’s slicing of Brooke Castile’s hand), it falls something considerably short of entertainment.

+ Make it a more appealing program for known skaters to be involved in. SWTS was lucky indeed to get Dick Button, Weir, and Belbin this time around… but whether the reasons were money-motivated or otherwise, the show gleaned either negative comments (put Brian Boitano’s name into Google along with the show title, and see what you get), or no comments whatsoever from the master class of the sport. I think they need to find a way to get them involved—I’d rather see a footwork, spins, or “how many axels in a row” contest anytime over Frankel’s prattling about her crazy life. Wouldn’t you?

Oh, and one more: replace Vernon Kay. ABC gave him a show; I gave him a shot. We both did our part. Now it's time for him to move on. :-)

Up north of here, Battle of the Blades just wrapped up its second season and, Lord willing, will get renewed for 2011. Why is it, with a format pretty similar to DWTS, so much better received? The quickest thing that comes to mind is this: in Canada, where hockey is king, figure skating found a sort of TV reality-show soulmate.

Maybe the U.S.—with no “soulmate” equivalent—simply isn’t going to find success with this sort of programming. No matter what network it’s on.


Anonymous said...

Five weeks was not enough time. Johnny Weir and Dick Buttons were very entertaining; bring those two back! Give it a chance! Add another "Pro" skater to judge, and replace the host.With a few more adjustments, it might succeed. I rather enjoyed the show. So sick of the usual singing and dancing...

Kelli Lawrence said...

I agree, it would be nice to see them try to tweak it & keep it.

I'm not particularly hopeful, but stranger things have happened!

Anonymous said...

Battle of the Blades is light years ahead of SWTS, beyond the hockey/reality tv soulmate theory (which is a good one, but far from the whole story)

1. The biggest thing is that enough of the professional figure skaters are big names (Jamie Sale, Katia Gordeeva, Shae Lynn Bourne, Isabelle Brasseur). Even the lesser knowns like Kyoko Ina (who is a lovely skater btw), Violetta Afanasieva, Anabelle Langlois, and Tuffy Sweeney have a niche audience that knows who they are, and are marketed well to the audience for their achievements.

2. Moreover, Canada is fortunate to have professional female pairs/dance skaters who are still active (and to attract very effective and awesome outsiders!). The US has the market more cornered on singles skaters. What makes Battle of the Blades work is the females' ability to provide guidance in addition to the coaching staff (also some big names in the biz such as David Pelletier and Pete Dack).

3. Charity Work. The audience sees a bigger purpose beyond the entertainment value of the show (the skating was very good too!), as many of the skaters and hockey players have a vested interest in the charity they are skating (and working their butts off!) for.

4. The Human Aspect. Especially this season, Battle of the Blades really tapped into the people behind the public athlete. It was very moving, especially in the post finale retrospective.

5. The Guest Judges. Toller Cranston, Christopher Dean, Marie-France Dubreil, Don Cherry. Smart, smart move to keep the show fresh and attract various generations of skating and hockey fans.

6. Sandra Bezic is my female Dick Button. :D Minus the bow tie, of course!

I can't say enough good things about it. If CBC puts out a DVD, buy it! :)

- Tracers

Kelli Lawrence said...

Thanks for the detailed assessment, Tracey!