Sunday, January 28, 2007

Summer Lovin'

Since next week is officially the start of Decent Quality Television and so the end of the much maligned season of Terrible Summer Television, I thought I’d look back on the Season That Was and pick out a few instances of Television That I Really Enjoyed over the last couple of months.

I’ve just finished watching So You Think You Can Dance?, so, as it’s fresh in my mind, I’ll start with that first.

If you don’t know, So You Think You Can Dance? is a Reality TV programme by the same producers as American Idol. As the title suggests, it’s a dancing competition. The contestants audition as individual dancers, but throughout the competition they’re placed into partnerships. Over the weeks the couples have to dance a range of styles, from hip-hop to ball-room, Broadway to contemporary. It helps if the contestants get to dance styles they’re familiar with, but that is far from guaranteed. Since it’s Reality TV, there’s a phone voting component, and in the first weeks of the competition, the three contestants who received the least number of votes were required to do a solo performance, to ‘dance for their life’ in the competition. On the basis of their performance throughout the competition, the judges would determine which contestant of the three would leave.

The next part of the competition which started just last week, sees the couples split from their long term partner in the competition and draw a new partner every week. In this section the new couples have to learn two new partnered dance routines each week, as well as a solo routine, just in case they don’t get enough votes.

I’m not sure if Ten bought the series as it was screened in the US, but the first programmes that aired here were savagely edited, to the detriment of the contestants' character arcs and the overall narrative of the programme. It made for really unsatisfactory viewing, and whoever made those editing decisions seems to have little understanding of the appeal of Reality TV, which is all about the development of the ‘characters’, their trials, tribulations and triumphs, also known as ‘The Journey’.

It must be said here that Ten has made a similarly bad call with the most recent series of American Idol. Aside from shifting its timeslot from Sunday evening to Saturday, midday to two o’clock (without telling anyone, of course), what was initially three hours of television has been hacked down to one and a half. Of course, it’s dreadful. Of course, no-one will watch it. Again we encounter the Bizarre Logic of the television programming executive.

Now that there are fewer contestants in So You Think You Can Dance? it’s possible to get a much better sense of their personalities, their dancing, and the judges and audience’s responses to them and their performances. Last week, I believe I got chills from watching some of the dance routines. Not knowing much about dance myself, I didn’t really think that was possible. I know I’ve responded that way to singing, but I thought that was because you could feel the vibrations of the voices.

I think one of the really great things about So You Think You Can Dance? is that we see the contestants working with professional choreographers, who create the routines for the contestants. I enjoy seeing this glimpse into the routine and rigour of professional dancing. The choreographers also take stints as judges on weeks when they’re not working with the contestants directly. This makes for a rotating panel of judges, with the only constant from week to week being Nigel Lythgoe, the executive producer (also of American Idol, I might add).

Lythgoe seems to have created a constructive and respectful judging atmosphere. He, himself, is always honest; if he’s critical he’s constructive, but when he enjoys the performance and the choreography, he says so, and you don’t doubt his sincerity. I think perhaps it’s this paying of professional respect that makes me enjoy this programme so much. It’s wonderful to see that when the choreographers are judges, the way they compliment the choreography of their colleagues, who, of course, are sitting in the audience watching their protégés. It’s especially great when the choreographer in question gets to his or her feet to applaud the dancers. They don’t do that lightly, so it’s an enormous compliment, and the dancers know that.

Next week, I see that in their Infinite Wisdom, Ten has decided to push So You Think You Can Dance? back to nine o’clock to make way for the premiere of the new season of The Biggest Loser. I’ve got nothing against TBL, but it’s not my cup tea. I wish Ten would just stick with the existing 7.30pm Sunday timeslot for So You Think You Can Dance?. But perhaps Ten is aiming for a result similar to that mentioned by Nigel in tonight’s episode. He mentioned that the previous episode had been the most TIVOed programme in America the week before. Since So You Think You Can Dance? won’t finish until 11 pm on a school night next week, it’s more than likely I will be leading the charge in the TIVO stakes. ( If that’s the same as recording to a DVD hard drive?)

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