How "Dancing with the Stars" was born

Wed Nov 3, 2010 1:17am EDT
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In 2004, the BBC rummaged through its library and dusted off "Come Dancing," a ballroom-competition series that launched in 1948 and ran for nearly five decades.

The British state broadcaster planned to revamp it into a celebrity edition titled "Strictly Come Dancing." Before its U.K. premiere, producers flew across the pond to shop the concept to U.S. networks. Armed only with a pitch and some generic footage, they received a less-than-enthusiastic response.

Executive producer Conrad Green: The BBC rang me and asked if I wanted to do "Dancing." I thought it was such a strange idea. Strange, but brilliant. Dance hadn't been on TV in a featured way in years, and it's one of the oldest forms of human entertainment.

Talent agent Greg Lipstone: I was representing the BBC. I thought "Dancing" was incredibly interesting because it worked on so many levels. It wasn't just a dance exhibition; it was about music, fashion and performance. It was clearly something different.

ABC programing executive John Saade: It was pitched to (ABC alternative series/specials senior VP) Vicki Dummer and I with this sizzle reel of the best ballroom dancing they could find, but it was everything you feared the concept would be: fairly stiff ballroom dancing. Everybody had the same reaction we had -- very quaint, very cute, very British -- but not a show anybody would watch. We just didn't see it.

Green: What weren't their concerns? "American Idol" was definitely helpful since you didn't have to explain the format. But a lot of people tried to make a lot of Idol-like shows and failed, and people had started to think Idol was nonrepeatable.

Lipstone: Everybody turned it down. (They all said), "Ballroom dancing won't work on American television."

The first season of BBC1's "Strictly Come Dancing" aired from May-July 2004. Producers pitched the show to U.S. networks again and again were rebuffed. Even with Fox's "American Idol" rocking the Nielsens since 2002, executives were convinced ballroom dancing was too passive and old-fashioned. When the BBC's second cycle of "Dancing" launched in October to mammoth ratings, producers tried to persuade U.S. executives to watch an episode of the format they had already turned down.   Continued...