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ABC Contemplates Next Step for Dancing

With 14.9 million viewers on average watching Dancing With the Stars every week, ABC is pondering the prospect of trying to turn the No. 1 new show of the summer into a long-term franchise. But the network is moving carefully, mindful of the painful lessons learned six years ago when another hot-weather hit, the game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, roared out of summer on its way to overexposure and oblivion a few years later.

The WB, meanwhile, has already greenlighted Ashton Kutcher's reality hit, Beauty and the Geek, for the 2005-06 season.

After a three-year drought, new reality shows are enjoying somewhat of a summer renaissance. Fox's Hell's Kitchen is doing well, though not on the scale of Dancing in viewers and overall demos. (Kitchen is drawing 7 million viewers per week, with a 3.4 rating and a 9 share in the key 18-49 benchmark; Dancing is scoring 4.6/13 in 18-49.) Fox seems pleased enough with Kitchen. But ABC and The WB are faced with the delicate task of translating summer hits into regular-season franchises.

The WB's strategizing over how to handle Geek began before it had ever aired, when test audiences responded strongly. “We actually talked long and hard about whether we should launch [the show] in the fall or in the summer,� says WB Entertainment President David Janollari. “I was really torn about it.�

Janollari ultimately chose 8 p.m. ET Wednesdays this summer for round one, and the slot has worked well. Not only is the show performing extremely well in its core young-adult demo (2.2/8), Geek has made the adult 18-49 race uncharacteristically competitive for The WB, with its average 1.8/6 rating. The WB is weighing the best time to bring the show back during the regular season and is also flirting with a summer 2006 incarnation.

As for Dancing, Andrea Wong, ABC's executive VP of alternative programming, is “very optimistic� the network can build a long-term franchise for the 9 p.m. ET Wednesday show, which pairs B-list stars with professional dancers in a competitive elimination format. It is “entirely possible� Dancing will wind up in the regular season, even during sweeps months, Wong says, since a show like that “will work anywhere, any time of year.�

Competitors, naturally, aren't so sure. While they figure Dancing may have a future as a regular season counter-programming tool against dramas and news magazines, a common perception is that the show is unlikely to be a long-standing hit on the magnitude of the four previous gigantic summer reality series: Millionaire (1999), CBS' Survivor (2000), NBC's Fear Factor (2001) and Fox's American Idol (2002).

Average Median Age: Over 50

An executive for a rival network notes that while the early numbers for the first edition of Idol were “surprisingly close� to Dancing's ratings now, “Idol was building toward a climax. People now are not buzzing on the street, asking, 'Do you think John O'Hurley will win?'�

Another jab at Dancing is that it skews too old. Although it leads in total viewers and all key demos, including young adults, its average median age through June 28 was nearly 51, ranking it among TV's oldest-skewing series this season.

But there will be no lemons for Wong, only lemonade. “One of the great things about it is that it appeals to everybody,� she says. “There's something for young people, there's nostalgia and a love of dancing for older people. It is great to be able to do a show that is really inclusive.� The demographics will bear watching if Dancing tries its moves against tougher regular-season competition.