I am shaking my head in dismay at the travesty that just unfolded in my living room.
ABC jumped the shark – again. This time it was a dancing shark.
In fact, it was the American Broadcasting System that was responsible for the phrase “jump the shark” in the first place. For those of you who may not know the origin of the term, it goes back to the days of one of ABC’s earlier ratings blockbusters, “Happy Days.”
The show was in its fifth season and ratings were still strong despite a lot of changes. But the producers kept searching for ways to push the envelope in an effort to expand the audience. So, in the third part of a three-parter called “Hollywood,” Fonzie is visiting Los Angeles where, in answer to a challenge to his courage, he dons a pair of swimming trunks and water skis and, clad in his trademark leather jacket and flashing his patented “thumbs up,” he jumps over a shark.
It was a ridiculous moment. It was a moment of obvious desperation for ratings. From then on, to “jump the shark” referred to the point at which a popular television show went past its peak and started resorting to stunt programming.
Tonight, the phenomenally popular Dancing With the Stars jumped the shark.
DWTS is billed as a dancing competition in which celebrities are paired with professional dancers to vie for the championship title and “mirrorball trophy.”
According to a definition found on Wikipedia, dancers involved in competitive dancing are “judged by diverse criteria such as poise, the hold or frame, posture, musicality and expression, timing, body alignment and shape, floor craft, foot and leg action, and presentation.”
A popularity contest, on the other hand, requires no talent. One just has to garner sufficient votes in order to win. Participants in popularity contests have even been known to bribe and cheat their way to victory.
Such is the case with Bristol Palin, the DWTS resident shark.
I questioned her inclusion as a “star” to begin with. Her claim to fame is nebulous at best Her mother is the “star.” Without Mom, Bristol would be just another unwed teen mother. If the inability to keep one’s legs together at a critical moment qualifies one for stardom, we live in a teeming galaxy, indeed.
And because she had no credibility as a legitimate “star,” ABC had to gin up the “Teen Activist” nonsense that poor Tom Bergeron had to choke out week after week.
There shouldn’t have been a first week. That there was a second could be attributed to curiosity. But as the weeks marched on – weeks in which the “teen activist” routinely held the bottom spot on the leader board – something began to smell of tea brewing.
By the time the wooden “star” had survived numerous weekly eliminations, forcing more deserving talent out of the competition, her momma’s rabid supporters weren’t even bothering to hide their manipulations, proudly tweeting instructions on bloc voting techniques to hordes of followers on various social media. In short, they were behaving like typical unscrupulous politicians and conspiring to fix the vote in favor of their candidate.
Sadly, they succeeded. After being forewarned by Bergeron that last night’s voting had been the heaviest in program history, viewers, judges, competitors, professional dancers – hell, even band members – were stunned by Palin’s stolen victory over the consistently higher-scoring and eminently more talented and supremely more qualified Brandy Norwood.
” Turn it off,” my wife said. “Just turn it off right now. We’re not watching anymore.”
The last image I saw before switching to Food Network was Derek Hough’s open-mouthed amazement. I read later that everything went very graciously from there, despite a number of “boos” from the studio audience. I also read of a veiled threat by Brandy’s pro partner to leave the show. As well he should. He worked his ass off with a talented competitor only to be beaten out by a fumbling bumbler with better political connections.
I spent many years on the stage in a variety of musical productions. And I couldn’t dance a step. I knew it. My directors knew it. My choreographers knew it. And we all conspired to keep it from the audiences by casting me in decidedly non-dancing roles. The few steps I did were more like walking in rhythm to disguise the fact that I was a complete terpsichorean failure. It took me a week to learn a box step so that I could dance in the back row.
I have to wonder now if I had only spread a few bucks around in the right places that I couldn’t have beaten out Bob Fosse in a televised dance competition.
I don’t blame Bristol. I don’t dislike Bristol. I’ll even admit that she really seemed to be trying in an arena in which she had no experience and she was improving. But there was no way in heaven or hell that she was anywhere near on a par with the least talented of her peers, to say nothing of being equal to one of the most talented. If she has an ounce of honor or pride, she’ll admit to the foul her mother’s supporters perpetrated and bow out gracefully.
As for the DWTS producers – who knew full well what was happening and did nothing to address it – be advised: the Dancing shark has been jumped.