‘Dancing with the Stars’ waltzing through strike

Scripted shows are facing a dwindling supply of new episodes.



LOS ANGELES — Here’s a “Dancing with the Stars” pop quiz: Which of the following performance critiques was delivered by effusive judge Bruno Tonioli before the Hollywood writers strike, and which came after?

Quote A: “That’s what I like to see! The boy from Brazil is going bananas!”

Quote B: “That was a cliffhanger, riding the fine line between love and hate!”

If you picked the alliterative “bananas” line as writer-scripted, well, sorry, you’re not moving on to round two. That’s a post-strike quote, while the less snappy one predates it — and Tonioli devised both.

It seems his comments, along with those of fellow judges Len Goodman and Carrie Ann Inaba and the wry quips of host Tom Bergeron, have been largely spontaneous all along.

ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” is one reality show that’s real, or as real as any sequin-studded Hollywood production can be. Who knew — until the Writers Guild of America’s job action pulled back the curtain and revealed the show had a single union scribe.

That’s allowed TV’s No. 1 show to waltz through the walkout.

“Oh, I wish!” Tonioli responded when asked if his lines were fed to him. “Even if you wanted to [prepare], it’s a live performance. Anything can happen.”

“You respond to what you see,” Tonioli told The Associated Press.

His creativity was unabated on Monday’s show. “That was a menacing tango. That’s a truly Scary Spice there,” he told Melanie Brown of Spice Girls fame. Goodman got into the wordsmith act: “Your hips — I was hypnotized,” he told Brown.

Sometimes a script doctor would help. But even they might be hard-pressed to craft the true drama that has shadowed this season: Jane Seymour’s Malibu house was imperiled by a wildfire, then she lost her 92-year-old mother. Osmond fainted on camera; two weeks later, her father died at age 90.

Tears and heartache abound, but the show goes on. In recent weeks, it’s been topping the TV ratings with more than 21 million weekly viewers.

While “Dancing With the Stars” steps gracefully, the strike has left other shows limping, or worse. Many dramas and comedies face a dwindling supply of new episodes. Late-night talk shows, minus their sprawling writing staffs, have retreated into reruns.

The syndicated “Ellen” is on the air without its union writers, to the WGA’s publicly stated displeasure, but host Ellen DeGeneres was sweating it on the first episode taped after the strike started Nov. 5 (with digital-media residuals a central issue).

DeGeneres extended her trademark opening dance last Friday for lack of a monologue, then launched into a laundry list of guest Vince Vaughn’s attributes (“tall,” “very, very tall”). Seven minutes to kill until the commercial break, she was told.

DeGeneres’ next line: “How many pints are in a quart?”

The strike’s ripple effect has even hit the news programs that fall outside its boundaries. ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” which routinely features a “Sunday Funnies” showcase for political humor from Leno, Letterman, Stewart and others, was at a loss last Sunday with their shows sidelined.

Stephanopoulos issued a call for viewers to rescue the fixture.

“If you see something funny on the Web or want to get in on the act yourself, record your comedy riff on this week’s political news on video, Webcam or cell phone and upload it to us” at abcnews.com, he said.

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