Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Dancing with Stars is Strictly a hit

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News correspondent in Los Angeles

Dancing With the Stars
The show matches professional dancers with celebrities

Just imagine, offering the country that gave the world Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, a television show that teaches people how to dance.

It would never happen, right? Wrong. It has happened and it is sweeping Americans off their feet.

It's called Dancing With the Stars, and up to 20 million people are being dazzled by its fancy footwork every week.

But the show comes from the United Kingdom, where it's called Strictly Come Dancing.

Simple formula

All the Americans have done is to change its name, add a bit more pace and - quicker than you can say "paso doble" - have produced a hit for the ABC Television network.

Executives from ABC fell in love with the programme after it aired in Britain on the BBC.

Its simple formula of matching professional ballroom and Latin dancers with celebrities was attractive enough.

Dancing With the Stars
Contestants include actors, former American football players and soap stars
But by making the couples compete against each other live on television and have viewers phone in to decide their fate, well, the mix could not have been more alluring.

And so every Thursday and Friday night Dancing With the Stars glides - or, in some cases, stumbles - across our screens.

We went to the studios in Hollywood to see it being recorded. It's a bit like stepping back in time.

There's the glass mirror ball dangling from the studio ceiling, the tables and chairs arranged around the dancefloor in mock homage to a 1950s nightclub, and the dancers. Oh, the dancers.

Wearing enough fake tan to cover an entire beachload of pasty tourists, George Hamilton appears with his partner to perform the first routine.

Darren Gough and dance partner Lilia Kopylova
The BBC's Strictly Come Dancing inspired the US series
George is 66. It doesn't matter. The actor, singer and raconteur is in his element, shimmying across the floor with all the grace of a man half his age hoping against hope that the knee cartilage holds out.

Not long after, the other couples get their chance. Among them are actors, former American football players and soap stars, a mixture of talent and two left feet, but all gallantly throwing themselves into this bewitching cocktail of pure family entertainment.

At the end of each dance, be it a waltz or tango, the pair then step forward to face the unforgiving judges.

No one is spared criticism, but neither are they humiliated.

And that's the point. It's reality television, but with charm and a smile on its face.

It's a slice of neo nostalgia. Dangerously safe television. It shouldn't work, but it does.

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19 Dec 05 |  Entertainment
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