'Dancing With the Stars': Contestants performed with new partners and how gimmick affects ratings

The newest episode of 'Dancing' had celebrity contestants perform with different partners than they usually do. Other reality competitions like 'The Voice' and 'American Idol' have tried to capture viewers' attention with new ideas as well, to mixed results.

Adam Taylor/ABC/AP
Lindsay Arnold (l.) and Alek Skarlatos (r.) perform on a Sept. 22 episode of 'Dancing With the Stars.'

On the newest episode of “Dancing With the Stars,” the celebrity contestants performed with different professional dancers rather than with the partners they’d been working with for the season so far. 

The contestants who performed the best were actress Alexa PenaVega and Derek Hough, who received a 10 score from every judge and so had a perfect score of 40. Close behind them were PenaVega’s husband Carlos and dancer Lindsay Arnold, who received a score of 39. 

New partners who also performed well were conservationist Bindi Irwin and Val Chmerkovskiy, who received a score of 37, and country singer Andy Grammer and Sharna Burgess, who received a score of 36. 

Former Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter and Witney Carson got a score of 35, while YouTube star Hayes Grier and Allison Holker got a score of 30.

On the lower end of the scores were “Braxton Family Values” star Tamar Braxton and Louis Van Amstel, who got a score of 29; Alek Skarlatos, who helped stop a French train terror attack, and Emma Slater, who got a 29 score; and chef Paula Deen and Mark Ballas, who received a 26 score.

Having the celebrity contestants switch partners is a relatively new idea for the show, with the idea having first been used in the spring 2014 season. Those behind “Dancing” no doubt want to keep the reality competition fresh and interesting for viewers. Other current reality competitions have also introduced new twists on the format, to mixed effect. When NBC’s “The Voice” debuted in 2011, it separated itself from its competition by having judges listen to contestants audition with the judges’ backs turned, then deciding whether they wanted a contestant on his or her team still without seeing the potential contestant. “Voice” is still on the air and is still doing well in the ratings. 

A new idea wasn’t enough to help fellow singing competition “American Idol,” however. This past spring, those behind the show announced that viewers can use Twitter to try to prevent their favorite contestant from being taken off the show. However, soon after, news broke that “Idol” would be airing its last season in 2016.

How are reality competitions doing in our current TV landscape? ABC’s “Dancing” and NBC’s “Voice” are still doing well in the ratings, with “Dancing” in the top 10 for total viewers for broadcast shows in the 2014-2015 season and "Voice" just a bit lower. But “Dancing” seems to be more popular with older viewers – while “Voice” is still near the top in terms of ratings for viewers who are 18 to 49, “Dancing” drops way down. Networks often value viewers between 18 and 49 because of advertisers who want that demographic.

Fellow reality competitions such as NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” and “The Celebrity Apprentice” as well as ABC’s “Shark Tank” continue to perform well in the ratings also. 

These shows have become reliable performers for networks but the networks don’t seem to be launching many high-profile new ones lately during the traditional broadcast season. The newest reality competition is “Voice” and recent attempts like ABC’s “Skating With the Stars” and Fox’s “The X Factor” and “Utopia” have not lasted.

The closest a new program this year comes to a reality competition is NBC’s “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris,” but that program is more of a throwback to the variety shows of previous decades.

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