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‘Dancing’ ratings put ABC in a twirl

Maria Elena Fernandez Los Angeles Times

ABC is dancing its way into television history books.

Marking the largest summer launch ever, “Dancing With the Stars” premiered June 1 with impressive ratings – 13.5 million total viewers – and saw that number swell to 15.1 million viewers last Wednesday, making it the top-rated show in all of prime time, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The variety-style talent competition pairs celebrities such as boxer Evander Holyfield and actor John O’Hurley with professional ballroom dancers who prepare the stars to battle it out on the dance floor.

It was the top show of the night across all demographic categories, including the advertiser-coveted 18- to 49-year-olds. Of the total audience, 6.1 million were in that category, 74 percent of whom were women.

“Astonishing, isn’t it?” says executive producer Conrad Green, who admits he was just hoping the audience would hold steady in its second week.

“My logical side says that the ratings should go up as the competition builds because you invest in the characters more, you understand them more, and you get involved in the relationships between the dancers and the stars,” Green says. “But that said, the numbers are astonishing.”

Created by the BBC in England two years ago, the series was a ratings bonanza there as well. As a concept, though, “Dancing With the Stars” takes most people by surprise, Green says.

“It’s never a good idea on paper, this one,” he concedes with a laugh. “But what people forget is just how wonderfully entertaining it is to watch dancing and watch people that you care about trying really hard.

“There are a few things in the balance that really appeal to the audience,” he adds. “You know the celebrities enough, and you get to have an opinion of them, and you start to root for people. You have all these dances and routines, but you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the spectacle. And you have the judges who do know about it and can impart information, so you can feel like you’re gaining knowledge as you go along.

“Finally, the audience gets to choose who goes. All of those four things together have a wonderful tension.”

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