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Tom Shales

Faint Praise

October 24, 2007 10:21 AM

Marie Osmond seems 50 times more lovable than ever in the wake of her dizzy spell and collapse on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” Monday night. Network executives may be saying “this is why we shouldn’t go live” with such shows, but they are so wrong; it’s why they should.

Unexpected events like Ms. Osmond’s fall to the floor (after an exhausting samba routine) are part of what make the show guaranteed water-cooler fodder. It’s true that if the show had been taped, ABC could have promoted the hell out of the incident in advance—but that would have meant ruining its authenticity and spoiling the element of surprise.

The element of surprise has been missing from most of prime time for a large part of the past 40 years or so. So screw the promotional possibilities; it’s likely that “Dancing’s” numbers will be up next week because of what happened this week, and that’s “promotion” enough.

Not that we recommend fainting spells as audience builders. Then again, maybe Letterman ought to try it.

Although it couldn’t beat viewers over the head with ballyhoo in advance, ABC did do its best to exploit The Osmond Incident via its in-house publicity machine masquerading as a faux “Today” show, “Good Morning, America.” Anchor Diane Sawyer, a genuine journalist, must be put off by the ever-increasing puff quotient of the show, worse now even than under the previous cold-blooded executive producer (her name must not be uttered aloud, or she might suddenly appear, like “Beetlejuice”).

Shamefully, ABC showed the Osmond collapse over and over and over on “GMA” the next morning and the morning after that. It almost became a visual joke; Down she goes! Down she goes! And one more time! And again! Osmond remained a fantastically good sport through it all, but really, ABC could easily have stopped at two or three repeats of the video; it didn’t need to show her swoon a dozen or more times.

In concentrating on the fall, ABC callously and foolishly ignored the rise: Before being carried into the wings, Osmond, back on her feet (but wobbling) and ever the trouper, managed to bow to the crowd. It was charming, brave, sweet. Even dim-bulbs at ABC couldn’t spoil it.


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