Sep. 16, 2013 at 9:28 AM ET
Sometimes glitz, glam and ballroom basics just aren't enough. After 15 seasons as one of the top contenders in the world of reality TV competitions, "Dancing With the Stars" last season saw a steady decline in viewers. In fact, the season 16 finale had the lowest ratings for any season ender since the show began.
So what's a ballroom bash to do? Apparently, when the ratings get down, "Dancing" gets desperate. And that means changes — big ones — are on the way.
The first hints that the upcoming season would have a distinctly different feel were revealed before the last one wrapped. Back in May, ABC announced its fall schedule with one glaring omission. "Dancing" would be back in its usual two-hour timeslot for Monday nights, but Tuesday's results show was nowhere to be seen in the lineup.
Cutting back to one night per week turned out to be just one extreme measure the show had in store for fans. The others became clear just a week and a half ago, when the new, somewhat-star-studded cast was revealed.
Harking back to the sort of polarizing personalities from much-talked-about seasons past (think Kate Gosselin, Bristol Palin and, of course, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino), this time around, "Jersey Shore's" former party girl, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, will bring her A-game to the ballroom. (Here's hoping she leaves her "Jersey turnpike" routine behind.)
It seems the "Dancing" powers-that-be intended the season to be packed with several shockers. In addition to Snooki, actress Leah Remini, who recently made headlines for her split from the Church of Scientology, is set to hit the dance floor. And if multiple sources connected closely with the show are to be believed, there was even an attempt to get embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen to sign up for the season too.
But in the end, the most shocking casting coup the show pulled off was nabbing actress Valerie Harper — a mere six months after she first revealed her battle with terminal cancer. While her doctors recently declared that she was "pretty close to a remission," the 74-year-old's condition certainly makes her stand out as a contestant unlike any other the show has featured before.
Just as notable as the show's efforts to lure viewers back to the dance battle are the efforts it's not making.
Sure, cutting out a second weekly show (that was often filler-packed anyway) isn't a bad idea, as long as there's time enough for all of the performances, a fitting elimination and a hefty share of wisecracks from host Tom Bergeron. And jaw-dropping casting choices are an old standby that's helped before (even if Harper marks a new twist on the theme). But what about other changes fans have been clamoring for?
Why are there no alterations to "Dancing's" imperfect panel? Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba have spent more time bickering than offering up constructive criticism in recent seasons. And why not bring back old fan-favorite pro dancers — such as Maksim Chmerkovskiy or Edyta Sliwinska? The familiar faces would be welcomed alongside the growing trend toward first-timers. And lastly, why not replace co-host Brook Burke-Charvet (sometimes called the "Brooke-bot" by bored "Dancing" fans) with a rotating selection of stars who've appeared on the show in the past? Because ... well, just because.
Only the bigwigs behind the ballroom staple really know why not, and only time will tell if the current changes are enough to send the ratings swinging back in the right direction. But if they're not, at least it's clear the show still has plenty of room to really shake things up.
The new season of "Dancing With the Stars" kicks off Monday night at 8 p.m. on ABC.