Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Strictly Ridiculous

John Sergeant: Political correspondent, one-time comedian but not ballroom dancer. That much we can discern from the judges of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing who, along with many other fans of the show, have claimed he no longer deserves to take part in it.

Today, John Sergeant himself agreed and pulled out of the current series, fully aware of the fact that despite his popularity with much of the British public, other more capable celebrity contestants were being denied the chance to progress.

In many ways, Sergeant appears to have done the decent thing. As many of the other celebrities were voted off following high scores from the judges and low votes from the public, Sergeant remained a part of the programme by achieving the exact opposite.

Last Saturday, actress Cherie Lunghi - who has proven to be a more than capable dancer in recent weeks - became the latest contestant to leave the show via a dance-off. Sergeant and his dancing partner Kristina Rihanoff had no such worries - the general public had voted in large enough numbers to ensure he'd take part for at least one more week.

But the mutterings among those who want the dancers to be judged purely on their dancing have become all the more louder in recent weeks. All four of Strictly Come Dancing's judges, Bruno Tonioli, Len Goodman, Craig Revel Horwood and Arlene Philips, have gone on record recently as saying how unfair Sergeant's ongoing participation is, yet for all that they remained powerless to do anything about it. Now Sergeant has walked, thereby resolving the problem at a stroke.

A very noble act on his part and one that will come as some relief to the programme's makers, but the argument remains - should he have walked at all?

Many of his fans think not. Though this is strictly a dancing competition, it's not enough to suggest that only the dancing should be judged. Strictly Come Dancing is a light entertainment programme aired at 6.20 on a Saturday night, and for all the skills of the celebrity dancers, the public tune in fundamentally to be entertained. Judging the celebs' dancing is something the public do not (in the vast majority of cases) have any qualification to do whatsoever.

And that's what gives one the impression that the BBC have shot themselves in the foot again. If it had wanted Strictly Come Dancing to be a dancing competition in the truest sense of the term, they would leave the judging to the judges. They, after all, are the experts and can tell who's dancing like the next Wayne Sleep and who's dancing like... well... John Sergeant.

The BBC could relieve themselves of any need to involve the public at all, but of course there is a reason to do this: to generate income via the phone voting that takes place every week.

It goes without saying that much of the money raised from the phone votes goes towards the Children In Need charity and very welcome they must be for it, but the BBC are no mugs. By charging Joe Public to interact with one of its more popular programmes, they can also pocket a few quid for themselves. Except now that money has been spent on a contestant who, it turns out, will no longer play a part in the show, contrary to what the quantity of votes suggested.

It hurts to say it, but these are no longer innocent times, and yet perhaps a show such as Strictly Come Dancing would have worked much better had it existed in more innocent times. By allowing the judges to have complete control over the way the scores are awarded, no-one could ever complain about the outcome.

And maybe that's the whole point of this. John Sergeant's reputation as a loveable and affable personality will remain intact and the show's future will no doubt be as assured as ever too. But through failing to lay down the exact remit of the program and executing it in a haphazard way, the BBC will surely end up with egg on its own faces.

And would you pay good money to an organisation that's failing to live up to its purpose like that? Too late - in the form of the TV License fee, you already are.


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