Midseason report card: ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and the Derek Hough dynasty

Here's the cast -Welcome back to our latest Midseason Report Card, where we offer up a look at just what a show has been up to so far this year, and where they could be going from here. Today, we’re talking about a show that is in a little bit of a bizarre position in “Dancing with the Stars,” since it has technically aired a full season already. But, we still feel like there are things to improve on in the spring, and things that the show is doing already that deserve a gold star or two.

Let’s start by saying that season 17 was the best season for the competition in years. Sure, the ratings in the demo weren’t good, and it skews so much older that you would almost think that Tom Selleck was the star of the show. But the weekly format worked well, Tom Bergeron still had time to be amazing, and the casting department did a great job.

The shining stars – Clearly, it was the production and development team for addressing some of the problems from the past few seasons. Getting rid of the band at times was smart, mostly because the singers’ butchering of some songs was legendary. They were good for some tunes, but bad for many others. Selectivity is the way to go. Also, putting the dancers at the front of the stage by the judges made this feel more more like a family, and a little less like a circus that had people running around here and there. Even Brooke Burke-Charvet, polarizing as she may be, felt more natural in a position where she did not constantly have to ask “how does that feel?” after every performance.

Also, how about the shock factor? Bill Engvall lasted forever, we get a few good weeks of Bill Nye, and it’s always a good thing when there are surprising boots (Elizabeth Berkley, Christina Milian) so long as someone great like Amber Riley still wins.

What needs work – The first thing the show needs to do is stick to its guns, and not change much of the structure from this fall. Keep Len Goodman and the judging panel intact, and reduce some of the guest judges unless they are filling in. It messes with chemistry. Continue to cast people who appeal to young and older audiences, and avoid reality stars who are already full of themselves.

The biggest issue that the show needs to work on is the balance of power among the pros. Supposedly, these pairings are designed by the producers, and it makes sense for them to want to keep their popular people like Derek Hough, Mark Ballas, or Cheryl Burke around forever. But while Derek is probably the show’s best choreographer, does he need to be paired with an obvious winner for consecutive seasons? Part of the joy of the show is watching a couple come out of nowhere (see Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer) and be amazing. We much prefer it when Derek is given someone who is a little more surprising, rather than someone like Amber or Kellie Pickler who at least have performing histories.

Overall – “Dancing with the Stars” is an institution for a good reason: It’s a great show that deserves all of its success. But the biggest piece of advice we could offer it is pretty simple: It needs to be just once a year. We feel like this is what helps “Strictly Come Dancing” remain such a monster hit in Britain, in that people miss the show. Also, it ensures that the talent you book is really as good as it can be. Grade: B+.

Photo: ABC

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