Tuesday, December 21, 2010

SWTS: Another Failed Skating Series

With the success of the Olympics, the return of the Grand Prix to network television in the US and the announcement of Skating With The Stars, there was hope that skating may gain a bit more respect.  With Stars On Ice struggling to rebuild and maintain an audience (and tour stops), every bit helps.  There was hope that Skating With The Stars could work.  Similar series work in other countries, but it has yet to take off here.  Skating With Celebrities failed and there was a faint hope that the Dancing With The Stars producers could get it right.

Scripted series spend months and often years in development.  There are scripts, rewrites, pilots, reshoots, recasting, etc.  The same amount of time and effort isn't spent on a cheaply produced holiday spinoff.  It showed on Skating With The Stars.  There is no way for a skating series to really have any salience when it only runs for five weeks.

Last night, Brooke Castile and Jonny Moseley were voted off.  He took it well.  Then again, it isn't like this series is widely viewed or meaningful in terms of career building.  There isn't likely to be a Post-SWTS bump for anyone other than Tanith Belbin.  She got some broadcast experience and clips to add to her reel.  The series might give Johnny Weir a few minutes of footage on his reality series, but it certainly won't be a reason to tune in.

Watching Brooke and Jonny bitch at one another was one of the few highlights of this series.  The only other may have been wondering whether they were or not they were sleeping together.

Many have suggested that having name skaters would've helped.  It certainly would have, but Johnny Weir doesn't want to close any doors on his amateur status.  It is unlikely that he'll ever return, but an unknown series wasn't something to shut that door over.  International skaters couldn't be in the series due to ISU Regulations.  They also decided to go with pairs skaters and dancers.  It wound up helping a tad, as the skaters may not have learned a damn thing about edges or three-turns, but they all performed eye-popping lifts for such amateurs.   Had they convinced Yamaguchi to give pairs a whirl again, it would've helped.  Then again, she could very well cost far more $ than they were willing to shell out.

Bethenny Frankel made the finals.  Given her level of skating ineptitude, it was a complete joke.  Bethenny said she was not surprised to make the finals.  She had some BS reason.  It was obvious from day one that she had the largest fan base and was likely making more than the other 'stars.'  Her tiff with Johnny Weir (all about the tension surrounding his friendship with Jill Zarin) provided the only modicum of interest produced by this series.  Ethan and Tanith would read lines about 'shocking eliminations' and 'edge -of-your-seat drama' that were cringeworthy and laughable given how poor the show was and how low the ratings have been.

It is amazing that Bethenny made the finals of a skating show without doing any back crossovers in her routines.  That is a bit of an issue.  Compared with week one, she bent her knees slightly more and was less rigid with her shoulders.  Bethenny was never going to catch up to Rebecca Budig in a month.

Rebecca and Fred won.  They deserved it.  We knew they were the best during the first week.  Rebecca clearly has an extensive skating background.  Had every contestant had a background like Rebecca, the series could've been more interesting.  Watching quasi-celebrities skate around like they would in a mall with their kids over Christmas break just doesn't work as a series.

The judges obviously needed time and practice.  Perhaps Kristi and Katarina weren't available to reprise their roles as judges from Thin Ice.  Their chemistry with Dick worked surprisingly well.  This panel floundered.  The Dancing With The Stars judges all had television or film experience before landing their roles.  They also see over a dozen contestants every week and are able to get their chemistry down.  One needs to question just how much rehearsal time the judges had on SWTS.  A lack of rehearsal time would explain why everything is 'Amazing.'  It doesn't help that the public can tell that the skating is bad when the judges try to pretend otherwise.  One can fake good dancing.  Everyone has danced at weddings or taken a few classes during their youth.  There is a bit of showmanship that can help 'fake it' on DWTS.  One can't fake looking comfortable on the ice.  It goes without saying that Johnny would've been better suited as a skating pro.  Then again, he isn't exactly the lifting type.

The best part of the finale was Johnny Weir's performance with Laurie Ann Gibson's choreography.  There has been a strong feeling that skating needs to modernize.  This was something one could see working in Vegas.  Perhaps Melissa and Denis should hire Johnny to be the star of their show?  It would certainly help from making it another SWTS-type failure.

In closing, I feel bad for whoever is going to have to put up with Bethenny Frankel's only child in the future.  There is nothing more irritating than a woman who craves being married and then craves having a child so obsessively that they are ready to open their legs for anyone.  While her husband seems great, the number of times she mentions 'being a mom' is on par with Kate Gosselin.  Given that there is only one child and not eight for her to obsess over and exploit, the world is likely going to have a monster on their hands.

Brandon apparently cared so little about the show that he didn't appear in the finale, nor did he even try to push through having the stomach flu.  That certainly answers any questions about the possibility of a second season.


  1. There is good news... The Grand Prix coverage on NBC went up in the ratings this year. The GP Final was the #2 non-NFL sporting event all weekend... You never know if even a silly reality show like SWTS attracted just a bit of extra interest to actual skating competitions.

    At least Rebecca won, but it sucked seeing Bethenny there over Jonny just because she has more fans. Jonny seemed really into it and was really trying to learn new things. He was obviously much more coordinated and had more ability than Bethenny. It just shows how much of a popularity contest these shows are.

    I thought it was low of Brandon to not bother performing tonight. The other eliminated celebs skated for less than a minute each. If he was still "weak", fine, I understand he's not an athlete, but REALLY? How exerting could it have been?

  2. "Watching quasi-celebrities skate around like they would in a mall with their kids over Christmas break just doesn't work as a series...

    It doesn't help that the public can tell that the skating is bad when the judges try to pretend otherwise. One can fake good dancing...One can't fake looking comfortable on the ice."


  3. "It doesn't help that the public can tell that the skating is bad when the judges try to pretend otherwise."

    Apparently, Bethenny's fans couldn't tell the difference as they really thought she was the best skater!!!!!

  4. What is it about Dancing On Ice that makes it work, and why was it not duplicated on SWTS?

  5. I can't stand Bethenny, she's trying to build a career on herself and now her baby and weird husband. I feel sorry for her daughter as she has no say in this, as do the children of that monster Kate Gosselin. And trying to defend herself by comparing herself to lifestyle maven Martha Stewart?! Bitch puhleese, Martha has class and talent, not to mention she never pimped her daughter on her show ever.

    I don't know why Bethenny has "fans", they must be also be attention whores who live vicariously through her.

  6. I agree with much of your review though I did like the judges and felt they did the best they could with what they had to work with. They built some great chemistry at the end. Johnny and Dick were hilarious together. I would not watch another season if they didn't return on the panel.

    Betheny was truly hideous.

  7. To Dave

    So now it's Johnny's fault if they don't have any "name" skaters? You make it look as if he was the one calling the shots.

    You're too much into FS to realize that the general public doesn't know / care who the "name" skaters are. The problem is with the "stars" who aren't recognizable enough.

    IMO $$$ isn't the reason why Yamaguchi, Witt or others of their "generations" aren't part of the show. Good to renew the crop and have more "current and young" skaters like Johnny, Tanith, Brooke, Keauna and Denis instead of the same ones constantly appearing on every TV ice show.

  8. I found the judges' panel on Thin Ice quite bland. They were more hilarious on SWTS.

  9. @anon 2:21: You should read the post again. Dave didn´t even hint on what you are writing.

    Dave...see, I told you. You can do it. I´m still proud of you ;).

    Great blog and you brought your points across. I do agree that the judges needed rehearsal time from the start as well. The show was put together too quick for the contestants as well as for the judges.They grew into it while the show progressed. Your points are still valid.

    "The best part of the finale was Johnny Weir's performance with Laurie Ann Gibson's choreography. There has been a strong feeling that skating needs to modernize. This was something one could see working in Vegas. Perhaps Melissa and Denis should hire Johnny to be the star of their show? It would certainly help from making it another SWTS-type failure."

    I loved Johnny´s, Denis´and the girls performance. You are right...Melissa and Denis should hire Johnny. I´m sure they are professional enough to NOT make their show a SWTS-type failure.

  10. The show was very rushed and I feel that if given time to tweak and make the necessary changes it could be successful. It seemed to take time to hook some of the audience as well, but the reviews and even ratings were better by the final week.

    Skating is just plain hard and not many people want to see cautious stepping around a round, kiddie pool-sized rink. Bethenny is a great "personality" and very successful in life but came off horribly on SWTS. I will never watch her in anything again. Johnny laying the verbal smackdown on her last week will be among my fondest memories of the whole show.

    I enjoyed the judges panel actually and even empathized with the difficult position they often seemed to be in. They grew into it as time went by.

    To be honest Johnny Weir was the highlight of the whole show. He is a true performer and an unsuccessful show will do nothing to hurt his star that is clearly growing by leaps and bounds. I'm not the greatest Johnny fan and sometimes his costumes and "esthetic" are too much for me but it's growing on me. He can be spellbinding to watch and I do appreciate what he's done this year to modernize skating and bring new audiences into it. He is a standout to be sure.

  11. I think the show could had been more successful if it didn't try so hard to copy Dancing with the Stars. Using a larger rink, not such a sloppy rushed show premeire and stars more familiar to the target audience. I had no problem with Johnny and Dick as judges but feel they should had a skating choreographer as the third judge.

  12. With David Wilson as the skating choreographer, you would have a judging panel of two gay men and a Dick.

  13. The performance with Johnny/Denis and the girls was mad scorching hot. I loved it!

    SWTS highs:

    - Johnny's skating performances
    - Tanith looking like a goddess
    - Dick's neverending struggles with his paddle
    - Rebecca's skating and lifts
    - Dick's crazy, pervy rants
    - The "judge's huddle" on Monday's show
    - Johnny putting Bethany in her place


    - Vernon
    - LaurieAnn
    - Vernon
    - the rink size
    - the cheesy script
    - Vince/Sean's skating
    - the "kiss and cry"
    - Vernon
    - Bethany's... everything
    - team Black Kwan crumbling before our eyes
    - Vernon

  14. @anon 4:56 LOL, you definitely made clear what or whom you did not like.

  15. Maybe I'm the only one, but I was fine with Vernon as a host. To my defense I must say I lived 3 years in the UK, so I get his kind of humour. I wasn't keen on his northern accent though.

  16. I'm not sure I agree that Brandon didn't continue to compete because he cared so little about the show. I think he just got sick, took some days off, and the days he missed were much needed and put him far behind everyone else. He couldn't get back into it and probaby felt he had to start from the beginning again. It was easier to tout he was sick then to say he didn't want to look like an ass out there. I think he was disappointed.

  17. The show may have only lasted five weeks, but I am relieved it's over and felt dread whenever the announcer mentioned "the FIRST winner of SWTS," as though there were any chance of this show coming back to life. I agree that it's the ratings power of the stars and not the skaters that makes the difference here. I think maybe the only way I could stand to watch a similar show again would be if the contestants were all high-level athletes from other sports and the show focused on the specific skills they have to learn with skating. If the contestants are just show biz people, that condemns their programs to being unwatchable versions of show skating. I didn't have any problems with the judges; I don't know what else they could have done with the content.

  18. I pretty much like your article exept for the part where you called Johnny Weir an amateur. The guy is a 3 times national champion, 2 times olympian, and junior world champion, just to name a few, he is recognized world wide, in part with Yamaguchi and Quan, maybe not as decorated, but as he deserved to, but equally talented.

  19. I was talking about amateur in regards to it being the terms for him being eligible to participate in ISU competitions.

  20. @anon 10:49 Rolling eyes here

    "It certainly would have, but Johnny Weir doesn't want to close any doors on his amateur status"

    This had definitely to do with upholding his eligibility to be allowed to go to competitions.
    It helps to read the posts precisely.

  21. Bethenny deleted her tweet from last night about how she "got bombed after the show and danced her pussy off". Full of class that one is.

  22. Yamaguchi is not good at speaking without a script, as was evident during her judging of "Thin Ice" and during her commentary during the Universal Sports Vancouver Olympic show. She gave very little critique. She is best when she is hosting shows and has a script... And of course when she skates. I don't think her addition to the SWTS judging panel would have made it any better.

  23. I'm not sure if Brandon didn't care... At the end of the show, I saw him go over to the trophy to touch it, as if to say "I wish I coulda had it". As an actor who appears to think outrageously high of himself (he's on a kids cable show, but wants to be a Will Smith movie star), I'm sure he's very caught up in what type of image he puts out there... I think he only would have appeared in the Finale if he felt perfectly healthy, prepared, and comfortable. In other words, he doesn't have an athlete mentality to push through things when they get a little tough.

  24. Anonmyous at 10:49 is obviously clueless because she spelled Kwan as Quan. lol.

    The skating was so constrained by the puddle sized ice surface. Vernon and Tanith needed more time getting adjusted to microphone usage. Dick needed more practice in holding up his paddle. Laurieann didn't have a clue. Everything was just so rushed. It also didn't help when one of the better celebs withdrew, leaving the race to get into the Final week completely anti-climatic. The skaters were the best part of the show. They gave it there all with those celebs who were very limited in what they could do. But all the TV/producer flubs got in the way of making this a success.

  25. The difference in the fluidity, speed, and comfort level of the skaters vs the celebs would have been so dramatically glaring had they used a real sized ice surface, that I guess it made sense to use the baby sized ice. That way, even someone like Johnny Weir had to skate very slow and cautious to make sure not to go over the edge of the ice. But it really did cause issues with Jonny Moseley going over the edge... Oh well

    I didn't love the group number mostly because of the camera angles. When there are multiple skaters on the ice at once, and the camera zooms into one person, it's hard to take it in... Then again, someone like Denis skating without a partner isn't exactly utilizing him very well.

  26. Perhaps the celebs should be required to be able to do front and back crossovers before they are hired. Maybe they should have to audition. Make the ice bigger. Get rid of Vernon. Hire Tom Bergeron he would have made things run smoother. Open every show with a professional routine. Keep the judges. I loved Johnny and Dick together! Give the judges more power to get rid of contestants with bad attitudes and contestants who can't skate (BF). Keep Tanith. O.K. perfect, I will watch again.

  27. I didn't especially like SWTS, but I watched, mainly, at first, to see Johnny Weir, but later, to see what crazy thing Dick Button would say and do. He was a hoot!

    I think the problems with the first season of SWTS are fixable--but the producers need to be willing to put out some money:

    1. Get bigger name "stars." Except for Sean Young, I had no idea who any of the "stars" were until I started watching, so I wasn't curious to tune in just to see how a particular star skated, and I never got truly invested in rooting for any of them. (Although, towards the end, I was invested in rooting *against* Bethenny who did not deserve to be in the final two.)

    2. Provide a bigger rink. And I agree, get rid of the idiotic ramp.

    3. Revise the voting system. Having a star skate, but then be voted off at the end of the same show based in part on the audience votes from the previous week, based on the previous week's performances, was bizarre.

    4. Perhaps have pros demonstrate what good basic skating and the "required elements" are supposed to look like. Maybe do instant replays comparing what the stars did with how the element is supposed to be done. Because I don't know how much of the SWTS audience actually did recognize what was good skating and what wasn't.

    One final gripe: Quit requiring such difficult elements of beginning skaters. Skaters who can barely stand, let alone move, on the skates shouldn't be required to do spins or jumps after just five weeks on the ice. The results were, for the most part, ugly and ridiculous.

    And then, if you did that, you wouldn't have Tanith saying things like "it takes years for competitive skaters to learn these moves, but our stars had to learn them in just a week." That undercuts the whole message that "ice skating is difficult and requires skill, athleticism, dedication, and years of hard work."

  28. I tried to like this show, but stopped watching halfway through. Before this show, I had never heard of Bethenny. She is a nasty piece of work. I had never heard of Rebecca either, but at least she was pleasant to watch. Things that didn't make sense were the roller derby ramp, the voting system, the British cohost, and having a dance judge on a skating panel.

  29. I'm amazed nobody tripped and fell coming around that ramp, which looked like it was on an incline. Who figure skates on A HILL. I know people want the show to pick better celebrities, but think of how hard it is to find people with good enough skating skills for this. Skating is an amazing sport, and chances are most celebs do not having the requirements necessary to participate. And unfortunately, so many of the celebs on this show weren't so likeable, either for their bad skating (Vince, Sean), or because of their personalities (Bethenny was nuts, Brandon kind of wimped out). Laurieann needed to go, but I don't see much wrong with the other judges. A judge like Weir could have given a better assessment of the actual skating being put out there if it wasn't so shaky.

  30. I liked the show, mainly because I like Johnny and I love Dick. I think there should have been more emphasis on the basic skills. Seriously, could Bethenny even skate backwards? I never recall her doing a backwards crossover, a basic and essential skill. Having your anorexic body lifted by a strong male skater is not a skating skill! Jonny did so well for a beginner. I was really impressed. I wish they had shown more of his progress--eg, learning crossovers and turns.
    I would like to see another season of this show, with the kinks worked out. Laurie Ann adds nothing. David Wilson would be a perfect replacement, but I doubt if he would do it. How about Oksana Bauil? The stars need to show mastery of skills through at least Beta before they start training. And they have to be more famous than the skaters, at least!

  31. Yeah, good luck finding all these great skating celebs. If they had good skating basics, they would probably still be skating, you know? It's just too hard to find. Bethenny did I think two backward crossovers in one episode... I think.

  32. Loved Dick Button! TSA scanners will never seem the same again.

    Some good critiques already listed. I don't want to repeat, so I'll only add.

    - Battle of the Blades format might be more successful.

    - Using hockey players brings in the hockey audience, which is much bigger than just the figure skating fan base.

    - Hockey players can already skate, really well. It's entertaining to see them struggle with toe picks and partners...much easier to watch that than someone struggling to go forward without falling.

    - There are lady hockey players. Pair them with male figure skaters. It doesn't have to be strictly male hockey players paired with female figure skaters.

    - Third judge should be hockey related or figure skating related. Having someone who doesn't skate and doesn't know skating doesn't make sense.

    - If hockey players aren't used, then make sure whoever participates is athletic, willing to work hard, and give them much more time to learn before starting the competition.

    - If hockey players aren't used, then start out with more people learning than contestant spots available and use only those people who master a certain level of skill proficiency as contestants.

    - Johnny Mosley should have been in the finale. Bethany beating Jonny turned the concept of the show into a travesty. The judging system has to be fixed so that can't happen again.

  33. Hockey is NOT a popular sport in the US unlike Canada. Hockey players won't bring more viewers to the show. The target audience is the same as Dancing with the Stars.

  34. I agree with anon 12:53. The ratings won't be worse, and the skating will be so much better. Bring on the hockey players!

  35. To Squasha 6:37 AM
    "The ratings won't be worse"
    No, but they won't bring back the show if it can't get better ratings. TV networks aren't interested in low ratings. Bring on "real" celebs.

  36. A lot of the problems with this show were also present in the first season of DWTS. They only had 6 'dancers' that season, no one knew the pros, and the 'stars' were unknowns who were poor dancers.

    I have never liked the cheesy 'humor' pieces on DWTS, but SWTS never needed the filler, being 1 hour most weeks.

    SWTS even modeled their stars after the first season of DWTS:

    Trista Sutter and Bethenny -- reality TV
    Sean Young and Rachel Hunter - acresses
    Evander Holyfield and Jonny Mosely - athletes
    Joey McIntyre and Brandon - actors, I guess
    Kelly Monaco and Rebecca Budig -- soap opera actresses

    I actually don't see the parallel between Vince Neil and John O'Hurley

    Somehow DWTS was a sensation in 2005, and BBC set things up similarly in 2010 for SWTS, and people took exception to the things they didn't in 2005.

    ABC is unlikely to try again, but I think higher profile celebrities could change things. Over time, the pros grew on me (especially Keauna, Brooke, Jennifer, and Fred), and they could be attractions just as some of DWTS's pros are.
    The quirkiness of D-list celebs works on DWTS, but didn't on SWTS.

    (Thank God they didn't try "elderly actress" as one of the stars for SWTS.)

  37. One more question:
    How does Dancing on Ice do it?
    Having Torvill and Dean and hosts is a good hook, but I don't recognize most of the skaters (although Vanilla Ice is going to be on the next season).
    Are these stars as unknown and untalented as many of the SWTS cast?

  38. And SWTS has a better trophy.

  39. ABC did try to tweak the show in the little time they had. Tanith was in a 'nest' for the first episode, but was moved downstairs and dressed up immediately.

    The Johnny Weir/Laurie Anne/Bethenny feud was bizarre (especially when twitter is included). The first few weeks when Johnny and Laurie Anne were nice to people who fell and then spat venom at Bethenny didn't make sense. I wondered if it was a production gimmick.

  40. Spat venom? Wow! We didn't see the same show!

  41. Again, skating is not dancing. DWTS has worked because dancing is easy enough to be "faked". Even the uncoordinated contestants of Season 1 could pull off some moves. On SWTS, very few of the contestants had enough skating ability after 5 weeks to make their performances look comfortable... And those "comfortable" performances often still included plenty of stumbling, awkward moments (the awkwardness of Vernon + Laurieann didn't help).

    Finding enough contestants for dancing is easy... Everyone's danced at a wedding or taken a dance class... And if they haven't, they can at least WALK. But finding people who even know how to skate forwards and backwards without stumbling is very hard. It is an incredible gift to be able to skate, and most people don't do it well it enough to belong on TV. Skating also needs a MUCH BIGGER surface than dancing.. I thought it was a mistake to make the ice as small as a dance surface. One of things that makes skating so cool is the ice coverage/speed, but I realize Sean Young didn't have enough ability to cover much ice.

    The British version of SWTS is probably also helped by the fact that Britain is not even close to a skating powerhouse like the US is. They aren't used to seeing a big National championships on TV every year, and they don't have many skaters at the top of international competitions. Their expectations are much lower, and a basic skating competition is probably more watchable for their audience that rarely gets to see any skating.

  42. Has anyone here actually seen Dancing on Ice? ITV.com blocks the video when I go their site. Are the shows archived anywhere?