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TELEVISION & RADIO | SHOW TRACKER

Bigger names, and good, clean `Dancing' glamour

The reality show starts Season 4 with a little less `who?' No one's cut from the premiere, which is just as well.

March 21, 2007|Claire Zulkey Special to The Times | Special to The Times

In terms of cultural relevance and advancements in entertainment, "Dancing With the Stars" is sort of like the reality TV show for people who find "American Idol" too edgy. It's a throwback kind of show, back to the days when sequins, glamour and network stars performed in circuses but managed to keep their clothes on. And as of Monday night, it was back for a fourth season on ABC.

Aside from its corniness and lack of depth, "Dancing" is an utterly charming show. Live music! Flashy costumes! Dancing! Even the judges, who follow the two-guys-and-a girl format of "American Idol," are comparatively toothless, graduates of the Paula Abdul "You look great and you have a beautiful soul" school. This is a show so clean and happy that it's honestly trying to convince us that Heather Mills (formerly H.M. McCartney) is a "charity activist" and not a former print porn poseur in the midst of an extremely bitter divorce with a Beatle. (Oh, but wouldn't it be great if she did a pasodoble to "Yesterday"?)

Each season features a formulaic lineup of stars, matched with a professional dancer to perform a particular step that week, only to get voted off one by one. You have a model and a beauty queen (Paulina Porizkova and former Miss USA winner Shandi Finnessey), an older gentleman who's not very good but who has lots of winning personality ("Cheers' "John Ratzenberger, a last-minute replacement for "The Soprano's" Vinny Pastore, whose health wouldn't let him compete), a "woman of a certain age" (ubiquitous TV personality Leeza Gibbons) who seems determined to prove that, while she's fine with how old she is, she'll be damned if she gets shown up by one of these young hussies, utterly charming professional athletes (boxer Laila Ali, 6-foot-7 NBA vet Clyde Drexler and Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno, who's lost the "Anton" but not the soul patch) and a few cocky young guys ("Beverly Hills, 90210's" Ian Ziering and our bet to win it all, 'N Sync's Joey Fatone).

In seasons past, the word "stars" has been used rather loosely to describe a bunch of people who may have been famous at one time many years ago, perhaps from a reality TV show or a B movie, and one or two whom you would actually recognize by sight. Now in Season 4, "Dancing" has the most legitimate stars yet, and while Ziering may not be George Clooney, more viewers will no doubt be enticed by household names.

What will definitely bring tension to this season will be the equation that bigger names mean bigger egos. While the stars have clearly practiced their sportsmanship and ability to laugh at themselves, dignity is certainly on the line each time they step onstage. Last season we had a fumbling Tucker Carlson meet his end, ignominiously, in Episode 1. This season we have actor and country singer Billy Ray Cyrus struggling to rip a wig off his partner's head at the end of his number. Which was a very confusing move until after the dance, when he plugged his new song, one that he just happened to perform to: "I Want My Mullet Back." Classy!

Luckily for Billy Ray, no contestants were voted off this week. It's unclear whether this was to give these bigger stars more guaranteed screen time or to ensure that Mills would be able to redeem herself in case her false leg flew off during the fox trot (a possibility that has intrigued Internet prognosticators since her casting was announced).

It can only get better from here on out, although obviously, for entertainment's sake, not for everyone.

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Show Tracker follows television series through their highs and lows.

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