Back in 2004 Seven’s local version of Strictly Come Dancing, renamed as Dancing with the Stars, would become a runaway hit.
With the likes of Bec Hewitt, Matt Shirvington, John Wood and, controversially, Pauline Hanson, it drew ratings of 1.9m viewers. By 2006 they blew out to 2.2m -the ratings equivalent of cha-cha perfect 10.
Daryl Somers hosted 8 of those seasons with sidekick Sonia Kruger, both of whom return for Seven’s 2021 nostalgic revival. Gone is a live band and live to air broadcast in this “All Stars” version, but there are plenty of returning favourites in Bec Hewitt, Tom Williams, Jamie Durie, Ada Nicodemou, Lincoln Lewis, Manu Feildel and more. ‘Wildcard’ entrants are Matty J., Jessica Gomes, Renee Bargh and -in a nod to controversy once more- Schapelle Corby.
Of course in the intervening years, 10 had two spins on the dance floor with hosts Grant Denyer & Amanda Keller, and under producers Warner Bros. this has the look and feel of the 10 version (same set, same sky lounge).
And how do our hosts look 17 years after they first appeared? Ageless Sonia Kruger looks amazing, and while Daryl may not boast quite the same spring in his step he is still more at ease off-script than on. There are spontaneous Dazza gags aplenty (yes all era appropriate) and you’re either on board with those or you’re not. What the show unashamedly offers is a return to showbiz, frocks and a few sequins -most of which have been bumped off TV schedules in place of reality catfights, cooking and renovation.
And then there are the judges: Todd McKenney, Helen Richey, Paul Mercurio, Mark Wilson and Mark Wilson’s Hair. Todd leads the pack with his quips, while Helen still brings a touch of sophistication.
Episode 1 features 7 of the 14 dancers: Bec Hewitt, Tom Williams, Kyly Clarke, Fifi Box -all of whom are now parents (cut to kids in the audience) plus Lincoln Lewis. Newcomers Matty J. and Schapelle Corby also perform.
Given there are so many past performers in the mix it has to be said: the level of dancing for Episode 1 is probably the strongest so far. Hewitt and Williams (there are lots of references to “that” shirtless routine) are standouts. Lincoln Lewis has more pep than the Energizer bunny.
But the big surprise of the night is Schapelle Corby. Say what you will about the network casting decision, her performance left judges rethinking their preconceptions. I can’t imagine in what universe I ever expected to see Daryl Somers interviewing Schapelle Corby (April 1 has been and gone) but viewers have always responded to performers ‘having a go.’
It’s also worth noting how far we’ve come with shoulder to shoulder audience members -something even 10 had to abandon when coronavirus began to grip the country.
But while the budget-friendly showbiz and daggy jokes are back, the Seven production still has one foot in the past. 10 had Courtney Act and the UK has featured same sex partners, yet there’s barely any sign of progress or inclusion in this terribly caucasian cast. Sonia Kruger, who has amply hosted numerous franchises for Seven, politely steps into the ‘sky lounge’ role here, duties that were shared equally by Denyer & Keller on 10. Come on Seven, move with the times please.
That said, there is a lot of nostalgia to like here and while this surely won’t hit the heights of 2.2m ever again, Seven’s broad audience should feel right at home.
Dancing with the Stars premieres 7pm Sunday and continues Monday and Tuesday on Seven.