Sunday, January 9, 2011

Dancing With The NFL

While I was sitting in a doctor's waiting room a few months ago, I read a little squib about how many minutes of actual activity take place in various types of sporting matches. This was in ESPN magazine, or maybe it was Sports Illustrated -- one of those sports publications that fill the vast pages between advertisements and genuine journalism with little factoids: bits of information not worth the effort of actual development into full articles. (Naturally, to a diffuse mind like mine, these are generally the most interesting things in print.)

It reported that the average hockey match has something like 58 minutes of play in about two and a half hours of television time; basketball has like 46 minutes (again, out of about two and a half hours), baseball has about 13 (out of eternity), and NFL football, only about 12 minutes (out of three hours). At the time I noticed only that the magazine didn't bother to include soccer, which probably has about 85 minutes (out of two hours), except in Spain, where the whistle blows every time somebody passes gas on the field, so they probably only have play going on about 60 minutes.

But more recently I've noticed that the NFL, America's favourite sport, shares its dubious distinction of sparse content with America's favourite television show, Dancing With the Stars, which takes a passel of unemployed actors, models, and former athletes; anyone who can loosely be called a celebrity in a town where anybody who owns a press agent is a celebrity (reading through a list of competitors is like reading through your local telephone book: some of the names are vaguely familiar, and a few of them you maybe can identify) and pairs them with professional dancers, then puts them on stage to dance for about two minutes each. DWTS starts the season with a dozen or so of these who-are-they's, then bumps one, sometimes two, off each week until they are left with a champion. 
At the start of the season -- and they have two seasons a year -- the shows run two hours on Monday night, and one hour on Tuesday night, when they give the boot. So the Monday night show starts off with about 24 minutes of dancing out of the 120; by the penultimate week they manage twelve minutes out of 90, which makes NFL football seem positively unrelenting in its pace. Throw in another six to twelve minutes for the judges to announce their scores, and as many commercials as can be sold, and the rest of the time is filled with fluff: amusing peeks behind the scenes at rehearsals filled with formulaic melodrama and everybody's-so-wonderful puffery; visits from attractive family members or relatively famous friends; and self-serving interview clips that manage to seem both spontaneous and rehearsed at the same time. 

Tuesday nights are even worse: sixty minutes to announce the loser of the previous night's competition, which in actuality takes all of thirty seconds. The rest of the time is filled with even more fluff and manufactured melodrama than the Monday night show.

And yet.... And yet....

I started watching a few years ago because my wife got into it, and let's face it, my choices at that point were either to watch and enjoy, or watch and not enjoy. I enjoy the dancing, what little of it there is, and I enjoy the comments of the three judges, who are all genuinely knowledgeable about the subject of ballroom dance. Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli are choreographers, and Len Goodman is a professional ballroom dancing judge (a what?!?). Inaba is also very pretty, Tonioli is wildly and amusingly exuberant, and Goodman is charmingly curmudgeonly, which strums sympathetic strings in my heart. The host, Tom Bergeron, who also hosts four or five hundred other television shows, has a pleasant delivery and is graceful in his easy humour. He is joined by a co-host, currently some woman named Brooke Burke, who was a competitor on the show before I started watching, so I have no real idea of who she is. She's getting better at her job, but is still no match for the smooth Bergeron, or indeed the woman she replaced in that job (whose name I forget).

Then there's the fact that the show goes out live, so there's always a possibility of something out of the ordinary. When Marie Osmond fainted after her dance, I was as stunned as I was when Roy Carroll threw the ball into his own net and didn't score an own goal (see video, below). It's the only time I've seen an actual faint. (Tom Bergeron really impressed in his handling of the event.) And it's a chance to see an occasional performance by a guest that I might actually want to see, as when Shakira performed on one results show. Plus, the show exposes me to music I wouldn't otherwise hear, since I almost never listen to commercial radio. It was through DWTS that I came to appreciate the music of P¡nk, who is now one of my favourite singer/songwriters, and Lady Gaga, who is one of my least favourite performers.

DWTS is inane, and contrived, and almost all the people on it are affected. But it still isn't as silly as shows like Survivor or Big Brother, where a whole bunch of fatuous people try to act as scurrilously as possible, and pretend that they're not being seen by a camera crew. And, with rare exceptions, the people on the show don't try to pretend that what they're doing is seriously important, beyond the sense of competition. Plus, there's a lot of good dancing.

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