Dish Of Salt: New ‘Dancing’ Makes No Leaps But It’s Got Legs (Sept. 13, 2006)

Finally, my guilty pleasure has returned! Considering 20 million viewers tuned into the “Dancing with the Stars” Season Three premiere, I’m thinking it’s a lot of people’s guilty pleasure. I have to admit to a bit of disappointment, though, with the crop of dancers. In their defense, maybe it was because the audience members were asked to be at the studio no later than 3:30pm or their seats would be given away. Cut to 4:15 and my best pal and “Access” Producer, Bryant, and I are still standing out on the sidewalk, twiddling our thumbs with hundreds of other VIP guests waiting to get in. So my feet hurt from my strappy high heels and I was cranky going in to the whole experience. Plus, let’s face it, while Mario Lopez and Emmitt Smith shined, the rest fell pretty flat and there certainly was no standout like Stacy Keibler last season. Where are the slinky costumes and hot bodies this year?

From my seat in the second row, I had a prime view of all the action but didn’t find myself getting into any of the routines until Emmitt Smith took to the floor. My guess is the audience felt the same way. Emmitt was the first to receive a standing ovation after his performance. He deserved it. In past seasons every dancer was given the same treatment. I hate that. I hate when you go to live tapings of reality competition shows like “Dancing,” “American Idol” and “Duets” and the audience stands up after each and every performance. I mean, come on, people! If you’ve been one of the unlucky folks to watch “Duets” you know none of the celebrities deserved an ovation. Being the jaded, cynical journalist I am, I will only stand when I feel it’s deserved. Inevitably, the people around me get annoyed and feel I’m ruining their experience. So I will admit to a couple of guilt-related standing ovations, especially at “American Idol.”

From my spot in the audience, you could see the nerves on everyone’s faces as they were getting ready to go on. We spoke to all the dancers backstage about their first night jitters. Mario Lopez’s cha-cha also got a standing ovation (again, deserved) and he told us about his nerves. “I never did anything with a bunch of lights and cameras and millions of people watching,” he said. “It’s all kind of a blur.” If he thinks that’s bad, how about millions of people seeing him naked? Check out next week’s episode of “Nip/Tuck” where Mario has a very revealing guest spot as a rival plastic surgeon who’s got Dr. Troy green with envy after a locker room shower encounter.

Emmitt Smith surprised everyone with his smooth moves. I’d say the audience was expecting him to be a little more like Jerry Rice was last season. So to see him move like that was a shock, though his partner, Cheryl Burke, tells us Emmitt still really needs to work on his posture.

On the opposite coin, Harry Hamlin was a complete disappointment. Having watched his wife, Lisa Rinna, last season, I would have thought he would be great. Carrie Ann Inaba had it right on the money when she said he was stiff and awkward. Next week they will take on the quick step and his dance partner, Ashly DelGrosso, tells us that stiffness may work in his favor. “Actually, you need to be the stick. You can’t be loose. That is one great quality that he will have for next week, because you have to have a great frame.” Not surprisingly, as soon as Jerry Springer finished his routine the audience burst out in a “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” chant the same way that they do on his talk show. Jerry joked to us about this backstage. “At that point I thought, oh god, are they going to throw chairs? Are we going to be hit?” I ran into his driver just as I was leaving the studio, and he told me Jerry was pretty convinced everyone would hate him because they hate his show. I’d say he’s wrong. A sense of humor will get you everywhere on this show. Plus, Jerry has the name recognition behind him, unlike TV host Tucker Carlson, who has an uphill battle tonight for sure. Most folks around here agree he’s probably going to be the one to go tonight, but he did plead his case last night to us. “A vote for us is a vote for fun,” he said. “It is not a vote for perfect technical dancing, obviously.”

Check back for more backstage scoop tomorrow and an interview with the booted dancer.

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