I was a Dancing with the Stars judge

TV Tonight spends a day on set at Dancing with the Stars, to see how much work goes into making Live television.

For about ten minutes on Sunday afternoon I was a Dancing with the Stars judge.

Arriving on set for a ‘behind the scenes’ story, Freehand Executive in Charge of Production Peter Abbott asked me to join himself and Series Producer Rob Menzies in the judge’s chairs for rehearsal purposes.

A camera had gone down and Floor Manager Serge Adimari wasn’t happy, but determined to get things back on track. Sundays are a well-oiled machine for the seasoned Seven juggernaut, and sticking to schedule is essential.

When it came to scoring my first pair, Johnny Ruffo and Luda Kroiter, I was advised to give them a 10. It seems at rehearsal some stars have become paranoid about low scores, wondering if it is an ominous sign of things to come. Now Producers just give them all 10s rather than deal with the conspiracy theories.

Host Daniel MacPherson strides through the chat-spots sporting a winning grin that seems so effortless. This is now his fifth season as host.

Next up was Danielle Spencer and Damian Whitewood, starting their routine at the judge’s desk. It’s a bit in-your-face, but hey, they dance so well I think they deserve another 10. This judging thing seems pretty easy.

With that task conquered, Abbott (still fondly remembered as the original voice of Big Brother) whisks me off to show me some of the other production departments that make this appear so seamless.

Dancing with the Stars is now in its 12th season, barrelling headlong towards its live-to-air variety spectacle. Sundays begin with the camera crew called at 9am, talent from 10:20am, band from 11:45am. Each couple has 10 minutes to rehearse individually, tempos are checked during band rehearsal, and a full show rehearsal at 1:30pm takes place without costumes.

I meet Costume Designer Valerie Nelson who has worked on every series and whom Abbott credits as one of the key reasons to the show’s ongoing success. Surrounded by sequins and a small work team, she begins work on costumes 2 weeks ahead of time. Having worked with numerous big names, she knows her role often requires skills usually found in celebrity management.

“If one person complains, everyone does. You have to calm them down,” she says.

The Control Room is a busy hive of over 20 people including Director Mark Adamson, Executive Producer Karen Greene, Seven’s Head of Light Entertainment Grant Rule, plus vision switching, lighting, audio and in his own booth, announcer Damian Nicholas. No dramas here, everything is working like clockwork.

Music Director Chong Lim, the other key personnel Abbott acknowledges, spends much of Saturday rehearsing with the band, and still changing tempos through until Saturday night. On a dancing show, tempos can make or break the act. Surrounded by a number of John Farnham’s band, Lim has also worked on every single season.

The production crew is confined to unglamorous ATCO portables at the rear of the studio for the weekend. With nearby offices during the week, it’s easy to transport your desk via a laptop under your arm.

After the rehearsal it’s into the make-up chair from 3:30pm while the dance floor is buffed ready for the big night. By now the judges are also on site for meetings.

Meal break ends at about 5pm as couples appear for stills photography. I’m asked to step out of the room when Mel B has hers snapped. Surrounded by minders and assistants I can only presume she keeps an international lifestyle even at Global Studios in South Melbourne.

Some celebs turn on the poses for the photographer with ease. Brian Mannix strikes a rock dog pose, Vogue Williams turns on a classic Mad Men look, Kerri-Anne oozes class. Jessica Watson seems a little timid before the camera, while Johnny Ruffo openly admits “I’m not a model!”

The audience comprises those from 7 to 70 who begin to gather from around 5pm, with warm-up man Michael Pope beginning his ‘act’ in the foyer. By 6pm most are seated in the studio as the band finishes last-minute rehearsals and Pope coaxes the audience to applaud (there are mandatory levels) and cheer as desired. Standing ovations are warmly encouraged. “If you’re half-thinking about it, just jump up and do it,” he says.

In the audience are family and friends of the celebrities, plus previous dance partner Arsen Kishishian, magazine icon (and Seven Board member) Dulcie Boling, and Brian McFadden (whisked into a front seat at 6:28pm, and whisked out again as soon as Vogue Williams has performed). An exec from BBC Worldwide is also in attendance.

MacPherson and Mel B are also introduced to the audience at 6:28pm. Whilst both follow an agreed autocue script, they are also comfortable enough to veer off-script, which is also embraced as part of a Live show.

As 6:30 rolls around all points have converged towards the show’s opening theme music and the very showy lights add a ‘wow’ factor. It’s Live telly time, and the stars are swanning down the staircase….

During commercial breaks Michael Pope works hard to keep the ball in the air with the audience. He pits sections of the audience against one another in applause-level battles, and encourages swaying with the music. Make up artists check MacPherson and judges. The band play 60 seconds of the upcoming song they must perform.

Before and after each act dances, they are filmed by a one-man crew for web and ‘video packages.’

During the show judge Helen Richey questions whether Russian-born Elena Samodanova is giving Shannon Noll the best routines, and even questions whether her command of English is complicating rehearsals. It was the night’s most controversial moment.

After the show Noll told me, “I think it was a bit rough of the judges attacking her a little bit.”

Samodanova added, “I was a little bit upset but the thing is I got my visa in Australia as an extraordinarily talented person and I did pass an exam in English, so I was approved by the Australian Government as a professional dancer, as an English-speaking person. So I don’t mind. I don’t care. I’m going to do my best and do my job as a dancer.”

The show ended at 8:43pm with Ironman Caine Eckstein eliminated, with media gathering for quotes ahead of post-show drinks.

11 Responses

  1. to: Moanique
    to your reply. No they don’t ever repeat these kinds of shows more then ones when it is broacasting on television. When i mean no repeats.. Its not like they will show todays program repeated the same episode show programa the following week. They dont repeat things. Think this.. When big brother show apear daily.. When its broadcasting on tv.. they will never repeat the same last week show today or such.. They do repeat series and they do repeat the same old movies year by year.. Not reality tv shows such as big brother and such.. big brother would show whats new and not to be repeated the same episode the following day. Unless of course you can watch the repeat shows online yourself then. But yes i dont watch any of these voice.. dance with the stars and such.. its so waste of money.. Just wait when big brother comes around this year and wonder how much channel 9 will loose amount of money by the end of this year when they figuire out channel 9 is carrying away alittle far too quick with things… Its like saying channel 9 is been alittle cocky attitute.. they are excited they now they have olympics to cover it up this year… and big brother aswell.. so now because they so damn excited they will blow up more fuel and waste more money by putting more reality tv show.. to change the format of channel 9 to turn what ones was just like channel ten with all the reality tv shows. I personaly would hate to see channel 9 and 7 and all waste thier money… oneday they might end up in crisis.

    Thanks that is all.

  2. Anyone see ACA take a hatchet to DWTS and specifically Kerri Anne last night? Claims of judging bias, that the voting is rigged and predicting that KA will definitely win.

    Can’t remember seeing a more nasty, focused slagging about another channel, TV show and personailty in a long time.

    They fronted KA at airport arrivals and she handled the accusations in her typically professional good humour.

    Today Tonight ran something later in the half hour with vision from The Voice and some of their own shows but I was at the gym and not plugged in so couldn’t say exactly what the focus was.

  3. @ vos, The Block, The Voice, DWTS, AGT etc have all been repeated, some more than once. I actually don’t consider DWTS and AGT to be reality shows, more variety shows in my opinion.

  4. I personaly do not watch any of these shows… just the participation wait for big brother to arrive and see how that goes. I personaly can not believe how tv fta channels are throwing away so much money to do this kind of shows like the voice and all these similar reality shows when it comes to music. They should save the money.. and create new australian series new things something nice.. how about history series of what australia was like in a australian family over more then 100 years ago.. series like this will allways be a gold and even premier..

    This is a good idea because the series will allways be on tv more then ones.. Any reality tv shows such as big brother or the voice or the block or such are never to be repeated same episodes.. they all shown ones on tv and if you miss it too bad they wont repeat it the following time on tv.. So why throw so much money for rediculours reality tv shows.. When they can do nice historic series about australia.. How about series if 1901 in australia brand new series the life of sydney perhaps… something that shows the world premier series made in australia. Series will allways be repeated any year on television.

  5. the singers are really great on this show, last night that woman sang alejandro better than lady gaga does in a live situation. considering how many other songs they sing on what i assume is short notice, it seems pretty impresive to me.

  6. @ David, what a great report. It sounds like an exhausting day for all concerned, and then they go to air at 6.30 all looking fresh as daisies. Michael Pope is a pro at what he does. And I must agree with daveinprogress that singer Susie Ahern is sublime. Very interesting read indeed 🙂

    1. Chk Chk: I write about shows from all networks. Have you counted up just how many stories there are for The Voice here lately? Or are you so obsessed with Nine you can’t see the wood for the trees? I haven’t visited DWTS for about 2 or 3 seasons, so I don’t see the problem. I endeavour to offer an insight into behind the scenes for my readers, and there are Nine shows coming up with the same access. But frankly I shouldn’t have to justify myself. If you’re not happy, and judging by your Nine-skewed email address you’re not, nobody is forcing you to read me as you have been for several years.

  7. Great report David – fantastic behind the scenes insights and fundamentals. Showbiz is so much about smoke and mirrors, and a show like DWTS personifies it. Daniel has kind of grown on me, host wise, and his infectious energy seems genuine if not a little like an overeager golden retriever! Mel B is pure diva – that much transmits through the screen – but your info is wonderful colour to add to the spectacle of DWTS. Michael Pope seems inexhaustible and a great performer in his own right. I have to add, i was a little surprised to see Michelle, the dark haired singer from Chong’s band on The Voice last week and get through. But with Shauna Jensen and Tamara Stewart who have had record deals and albums not make it, it is great that the talented Michelle who performs so beautifully along with Rod Davies and the sublime Susie Ahern, now get her time in the spotlight. The music is just awesome on DWTS. Chong and the band and singers are the best!

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