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Crawling to the "Stars''

By RD Heldenfels Published: July 27, 2005

This is how you put people in seats for bad press conferences: Bait.

The end of today's sessions was one for ''Dancing With the Stars,'' whose bizarre scoring system, semi-controversial finish and ratings success all made it the subject of considerable curiosity and passion for some TV critics. It was the biggest topic of the day, almost as big as the talk about TV Guide's planned reformatting.

It also finally cleared up something I had never really understood from the telecasts: How the scoring worked, and at least one reason why it was so weird. The details of scoring are still posted online, and you can find a link here: Dance scores.

As for why it was weird -- with the judges evaluating one performance on one night, while the viewer vote was based on the previous week's performance -- it boiled down to ABC's unwillingness to devote two shows a week (one for performance, the second for results) to a show that was untried in the U.S. Given the success of the first series, it may go for two nights a week in the second run -- although no one is promising that.

There was more from the press conference, most of it defending the first season's results. But instead of obsessing, let's flash back to how '"Dancing'' was used as bait.

ABC has a couple of sitcoms that are quite bad, that are in fact both in contention for a lot of critics' worst-new-show list. So where did the network schedule press conferences for ''Hot Properties'' and ''Freddie''? In a nice hammock between a session for ''Boston Legal'' and one for ''Dancing.''

''Boston Legal'' might get you into the room, since it's a successful show and has a marquee cast. Still, if you wanted to be sure of a good seat for ''Dancing,'' you also had to camp out through ''Hot Properties'' and ''Freddie.''

That's not as bad as, say, sleeping on concrete outside an arena all night to get Grateful Dead tickets. But at least when you're waiting for tickets, you don't have to watch people explaining that their bottled swill is Perrier.

Did I do it anyway? Sure. Even asked a question here and there. You have to pass the time somehow, and it would have been bad form to break out a harmonica and start a sing-along to ''Uncle John's Band.''

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