A little more than 11 years ago, the hosts of one of our bigger morning radio shows in Los Angeles were having a good laugh.
A new reality-type show had been announced, and six celebrities—all known personalities to varying degrees but no one fresh from an Oscar win or a No. 1 album or anything—were going to be trying their hands at...heehee!...ballroom dancing. In 2005. Bwahahahaha.
Little could the skeptics have guessed (heck, even network executives had little more than hope and faith in the successful British TV model to go on) that Rachel Hunter, John O'Hurley (the J. Peterman from Seinfeld), Evander Holyfield, first-ever Bachelorette Trista Sutter, soap actress Kelly Monaco and New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre would be competing on the inaugural season of one of the biggest hits of the decade.
That hit, of course, was Dancing With the Stars.
More than 13 million people turned into the premiere and, by the second episode, it was the No. 1 show on network TV and that's where it stayed throughout the summer of 2005. And people even grumbled so much about the finale results, in which Monaco bested O'Hurley, they had a dance-off.
Who knew what a few sequins and spray tans could do?!
Fast-forward a few presidential administrations and season 23 premieres tonight on ABC, the show successfully going the two-cycles-a-year route that hardly any other show has been able to pull off in the long run, The Voice and America's Next Top Model being two of the few.
The bloom may be off the rose, the season 22 premiere having hit a new opening-night low among coveted 18-to-34-year-old viewers, the 21st and 20th season premieres beforehand having each set the previous new low.
And yet Dancing With the Stars was still the most-watched show in prime-time when season 22 premiered in March, with 12.35 million viewers. The dip can at least partially be attributed to DVRs and shifting viewer habits, the reasonable assumption that thousands of more people were going to watch the episode online the next day, or at least catch highlights. Not to mention, there are so many more shows competing for eyeballs on cable in 2016 than there were in 2005.
So really, when you look at it that way, DWTS is holding fast!
Not only that, but co-host Tom Bergeron is back for his 23rd straight season, and judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli haven't budged (well, Len missed season 21, but he couldn't stay away). In recent years they've entertained a rotating cast of guest judges, and Erin Andrews is the fourth co-host to partner with Bergeron, but otherwise...
How's that for stability?
And then there are the professional dancers...Many of them have become celebrities in their own right, with the likes of Derek Hough (back for season 23), Maksim Chmerkovskiy (also back!), Cheryl Burke (back!), Mark Ballas (out for this round after 18 straight seasons) and, in her day, Julianne Hough garnering votes all on their own. We all have our faves (and trust us, no one is bummed that Derek and Maks are back) and this reliable rotating cast of talented and relentlessly tan characters have also helped ensure the loyal viewership.
So it's funny, with all the love people have for this show, that there's so much eye-rolling and snarking before the start of every season. Like clockwork, a few incoming contestants are leaked, snark-snark, and then the rest of the cast is ceremoniously announced.
There is no such thing as being satisfied by the new cast of Dancing With the Stars. It always seems like a ridiculous lineup. And without fail, you've never heard of two or three of them, or you kinda know the name but can't quite place it...
And who knows where this doubt comes from since, from season one, when Elaine's boss from Seinfeld basically got a do-over to appease his crushed fans, the most unexpected of celebrities have been dancing away with our hearts.
Stacy Keibler? If you don't watch wrestling... wow, she can dance!
Mario Lopez, what's he been up to? Oh, second place, and he probably should've won season three.
Brooke Burke-Charvet? Rob Kardashian? Kellie Pickler? Paige VanZant? Who knew?! Melissa Rycroft may have been the victim of one of the worst Bachelor burns, but she turned out to be a terrific dancer. Everyone who rooted for Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing in 1988 got to vote for her in 2010. And who wasn't happy for Maks when he finally won with shoo-in Meryl Davis?
Not everyone is a delightful surprise, of course. In fact, at least a third of the field each season is painful to watch—but that's part of the fun and the predicament usually sorts itself out, with the voters almost always skimming the cream off the top.
The strange case of Sabrina Bryan remains an example of a seemingly surefire finalist being voted off way too early (twice!), and feelings more than technical skills usually win the day when it comes to awarding that mirror-ball trophy. But there's never been an un-deserving winner, no Kris Allen over Adam Lambert sort of situation (no offense, Kris) or other miscarriage of reality-competition justice.
Sometimes a contestant deservedly runs away with it from night one, as Alfonso Ribeiro did in season 19, or Kristi Yamaguchi did in season...six?
That seems like so long ago...because it was. Eight years in fact. And here we are, with DWTS primed to mark its 400th episode this season, and we'll be tuning in tonight for the premiere as always—and with all the same questions, concerns and curiosity.
Just how weird will it be to see Rick Perry do a cha-cha? Ryan Lochte won't be the worst one out there, will he? (And will he find redemption?!) Will Amber Rose be as fierce on the dance floor as she is in life? In what week will Calvin Johnson first dance shirtless? Just how great is Laurie Hernandez going to be (because we know she's going to be great)? Who's going to give Carrie Ann Inaba all the feels? Who's going to leave Len in a snit? Who will have Bruno gyrating out of his chair?
All will be revealed in due time—and once again we'll wonder how we could've ever doubted Dancing With the Stars.