Dancing controversy sparks change in show

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ABC's Dancing with the Stars was expected to be nothing but pleasant filler for the summer season, so producers were pleasantly surprised when passionate fans leaped out of the woodwork to turn the show into an overnight phenomenon. Even more surprising was the controversy generated by the contest's outcome, which isn't over yet.

Underdog Kelly Monaco (General Hospital) came from behind to snatch victory from the teeth of projected winner John O'Hurley (Seinfeld), who had been a favorite with both fans and judges. Though Monaco and her partner, Alec Mazo, delivered a less-than-flawless performance on the final night, all three judges awarded the pair with perfect scores. This--along with the fact that Monaco's General Hospital also airs on ABC--raised the hackles of O'Hurley fans across the nation.

O'Hurley sympathizers accused the show's judges of network favoritism, and they also suggested that throngs of loyal soap opera fans "rocked the vote" in Monaco's direction. The Dancing queen rebutted that particular rumor by quoting numbers. General Hospital is watched by about 2.4 million people per day, while Seinfeld, at its peak, boasted 20 million viewers per weekly episode. "We had almost 24 million people watching (Dancing)," she said. "You do the math."

Dancing judges stood by Monaco, claiming that she fully deserved to win. "She did a great performance," said judge Carrie Ann Inaba. "She showed us what she had." Inaba also suggested that O'Hurley "played it safe" with his final dance, while Monaco and Mazo presented a more challenging routine that included a difficult stair-descending handstand maneuver.

Another source of contention was the show's rather confusing voting process, which combined viewers' votes from the previous week with judges' opinions of the current week's live performances. Dancing producers have stated that by the time the finale began, Monaco had already garnered such a large percentage of viewer votes that she would have won no matter who the judges picked. ABC vehemently denies any conspiracy in the outcome of the contest but agrees that the voting process is flawed.

When Dancing returns for its second season, the elimination process will be similar to that of American Idol. Judges will give their scores at the end of each live performance, and then fans will call in with their votes. The results will be combined and then announced in a half-hour live show aired later each week. The team with the lowest combined score will be eliminated from the next round.

"We are so grateful for the fans' passion for the show," said ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson. "We heard their frustrations loud and clear about the voting process, so we're adding the results show, letting them have the fullest possible participation."

As for the outcome of the first season, McPherson suggested the possibility of a dance-off between O'Hurley and Monaco. Monaco's response: "Bring it on."

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