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March 22, 2008

'Dancing with the Stars'

Dancing_278x150 By Barry Garron

It might have been a good way to open the night's program on "Dancing with the Stars."

"We wanted to have them waltz around the stage but, frankly, it's a little too small," said Pat Mitchell, Paley Center for Media president and CEO.

Even if the stage was too small for waltzing, it was large enough to hold all 14 members on the Friday night panel: two co-hosts, two judges, one executive producer, three professional dancers, five current and past celebrity dancers and program host Mark Steines of "Entertainment Tonight." (Tom Bergeron, left, and Samantha Harris during a show. Getty Images photo)

The ABC hit, now into its sixth season, is all about showing off celebrities. During the panel, however, the celebs mostly faded into the background. Current dancer Kristi Yamaguchi got in one line all night. The others fared only slightly better.

It's a good bet that current celeb dancer Adam Carolla, who earlier in the week used the "B" word on judge Carrie Ann Inaba, would have livened things up. It's also a good bet that he was excluded for that very reason.

Steines covered all the bases, but the nearly full-house registered only polite enthusiasm. Following a clip compilation with the show's 10 most memorable moments (No. 2 was Kelly Monaco's slipping top and No. 1 was Marie Osmond's collapse after a dance number), Steines introduced the panel and segued into a Q&A.

Why do people watch the show, he asked exec producer Conrad Green. "People love to see dancing," he replied. Plus, he said, there are the human interest stories about stars you thought you knew. (It's just a guess, mind you, but those sexy costumes might be a factor, as well.)

Judges Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman shared some of their perspectives. Tonioli said he doesn't pull punches for celebrities. "They know the game," he added. "To kiss somebody's butt, we're not there for that." Judges  

Goodman, on the other hand, is more tactful, a lesson he learned when he was 19, selling accident insurance policies for an American company in his native England. "I learned to praise before I criticize. I always try to give a positive critique." (Judges Bruno Tonioli, left, and Len Goodman. Photo courtesy of Kevin Parry/The Paley Center for Media)

As for the stars, some are apprehensive and some aren't. Jane Seymour said she worried about an aching back only to find that "Dancing with the Stars" provided the physical therapy that cured her. Drew Lachey said he always felt confident. "I saw the people that danced on the first season. It didn't give me too much pressure."

Current celeb dancer Christian De La Fuente said training for the show is harder than anyone would expect, though he was ready. "I'm lucky to be an officer in the Chilean Air Force and I was taught by mean people," he explained. "After this, I could survive anything."

Green said that, each season, he recruits one or two key people and then balances the rest of the celebs by age and background. He wants contestants who show a passion for dance and who might seem unlikely choices, "someone who really shouldn't be there." Surprisingly, there are no auditions before the selections are made and no extensive medical tests.

Hosts Tom Bergeron and Samantha Harris described a backstage atmosphere of camaraderie and mutual cooperation. "Everyone's it in to win it," Harris said, "but there are a lot of friendships that develop."

"Jerry (Springer) is a real good example of what the show brings out, the surprise," said Bergeron. "He's on my speed dial now. We're friends now. He's a real sweetheart."

Who selects the music? The celebs, if the show can clear the rights. Otherwise, music is assigned.

Who selects the dance moves and the costumes? That's the province of the pros. Well, almost.

Bergeron recalled one week when Marie Osmond went off the deep end with her makeup. "There should have been an intervention on that one," he said.

Lachey For all the news it made, medical mishaps like Osmond's faint are common. "You're going to hurt yourself," Lachey said. "It's just a matter of how."

Lachey couldn't move his head for two days. Seymour pulled all the muscles in her rib cage. After being voted off, Wayne Newton learned he had pneumonia the entire time he was on the show. (Jane Seymour, left, and Drew Lachey. Photo courtesy of Kevin Parry/The Paley Center for Media)

Troupers that they were, though, there was no sign of any durable medical equipment in the theater.

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