Critic’s Notebook: ‘Dancing With the Stars’ looks for buzz with its new lineup


There is a freak show quality to this year’s newly announced list of “Dancing With the Stars” participants, even by the show’s increasingly bearded-lady/Kate Gosselin standards. Honestly, how is one supposed to react to a list on which David Hasselhoff looks like a dignified elder statesman?

The big news, of course is Bristol Palin, daughter of former Alaska governor, former vice presidential candidate and current Fox News commentator Sarah Palin. Upon first glance, Bristol does not possess even the slightest, most cobwebby version of stardom (not to mention any hint of hidden dance talent). But if you squint hard enough at the great messy blur that passes for culture these days, if you stop trying to force people into your close-minded retro categories (like a trained actor and guy who just happens to land on a reality show), if you just surrender to the new system of socio-politainment, you will realize that she has been starring in her own very high-profile reality series for a few years. Which means Bristol Palin actually outranks Audrina Patridge and The Situation in terms of viewership and buzzability.

To my mind, anyone who can steal thunder or headlines from the dreaded Patridge and/or The Situation deserves her place on a stage so recently vacated by Pamela Anderson and Kate Gosselin. Who knows? Maybe Bristol can land a gig in the opening number of next year’s Emmys.

Still it’s hard not to snicker, just a bit. It’s so delicious to remember Sarah Palin’s mama-pit-bull outrage at any perceived breech of privacy regarding her children (when the media reported Bristol’s pregnancy, her prospective mother-in-law’s arrest for drug dealing, and her fiance’s general lameness) in the light of her child now signing a contract with a reality show. (Sometimes you do have to wonder if Sarah Palin is on Jon Stewart’s payroll just, you know, to hedge her bets.)

But the problem with Bristol Palin is not that she’s violating some unwritten code of behavior regarding quasi-political offspring — families older and more celebrated than hers have taken care of that. ( William Kennedy Smith was charged with rape, for heaven’s sake.) Or that she is somehow leveraging celebrity that is second-hand and mostly due to unplanned pregnancy and poor fiancé choices — Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton jump started careers with sex tapes.

No, the real problem is that her presence has utterly detracted from the participants who otherwise would be getting a lot of ink right now. People who are much more deserving of a career boost, even via a reality dance competition that would sign Bristol Palin.

Like Florence Henderson, people! Old gals are nothing new to “Dancing With the Stars” — Miss Priscilla Presley and Miss Cloris Leachman leave large, and sensibly heeled, shoes to fill, but goodness me, to have Mrs. Brady in the house…all I can say is forget Betty White, she’s way too over-exposed. Let’s have Henderson host “Saturday Night Live.” Or join Carol Burnett on “Glee.”

Likewise, Jennifer Grey is getting lamentable short shrift. Especially with the recent passing of her “Dirty Dancing” costar Patrick Swayze, Grey’s decision to join the show is a landmark, or at least commemorative plaque, of sorts. Though since she wrecked her face with a botched nose job, she has made something of a career of parodying her career, famously appearing in the sitcom “It’s Like, You Know” as an actress who ruins her face with a botched nose job.

With Where Are They Now champs like that in the running, poor old Michael Bolton or even Brandy doesn’t stand a chance. (Memo to Margaret Cho: Honey, what are you doing on this list? You’re still working — we love you in “Drop Dead Diva”! Though you will get in super-fabulous shape, and maybe you’ll win.)

Actually, taken as a group, there’s a connect-the-dots quality to some of the contestants that’s both hilarious and chilling. Certainly there’s a fairly straight line from The Hoff to The Situation (what was “Baywatch” but a pre-reality reality show?) and from Audrina to Bristol. You have to wonder when some enterprising soul will come up with a show that will draw solely from a pool of reality show has-beens. Isn’t it time to remake “The Love Boat”?