Ken Tucker on ''Dancing With the Stars,'' ''So You Think You Can Dance''

By Ken Tucker
Updated May 21, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dancing With The Stars
Season finale: Tuesday, May 25, 8 p.m.

So You Think You Can Dance
Season premiere: Thursday, May 27, 8 p.m.

Heaven forbid TV should be deprived of a dancing show for so much as a week: What would happen to the Republic if we couldn’t watch someone wiggle out a tango? Thus the conclusion of this season’s tumultuous, high-rated Dancing With the Stars on ABC glides smoothly into the season premiere of So You Think You Can Dance on Fox.

The popularity of dance competitions goes back to the beginnings of the medium. In 1950 and lasting for that full decade, there was The Arthur Murray Party, one big commercial for dance instructor Murray’s nationwide chain of dance studios. In the contest part of the show each week, a couple performed a dance, and the first viewer to correctly identify that dance was given free lessons at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Another example among scores of others is Dance Fever, created in 1979 by Merv Griffin. It caught the disco craze and camped it up with its first, best host, Deney Terrio, who oversaw a competition between four dancing couples competing each week for a cash prize.

These days, there’s an interesting aesthetic gap between contemporary scripted TV, in which breaking new narrative ground is the most highly esteemed quality (think everything from Lost to Breaking Bad), and contemporary reality/game shows, which deploy the hoariest clichés for new generations. Viewers who dismiss most of the pop culture that occurred before their date of birth are apparently happy to watch the exact same kind of dancing that seemed hopelessly square and boring when The Lawrence Welk Show featured it for more than 30 years starting in 1951.

I always try to ask DWTS fans if they also watch the team of Barbara and Bobby on PBS’ Welk reruns, and I invariably get a blank stare. So you’ll have to trust me: Nicole Scherzinger and Derek Hough ain’t doing anything different.

What is different, and superior, about DWTS and SYTYCD is their hosts. Tom Bergeron and Cat Deeley are two of the most likable personalities on TV. They’re both charming, funny, articulate, and quick-witted. When Bergeron told Stars‘ producers to dump the traditional pretaped farewell segment on the night Kate Gosselin was booted off because he knew viewers really wanted to see Gosselin sob and stumble through a goodbye, he deserved a raise and another Emmy nomination.

As for Britty-pretty Deeley, I’m looking forward to a few weeks of watching her cozy up to the contestants and the ”jidges”…and then I’ll move on to some summer reading. Because I know that one TV dance show is pretty much just like another, and has been for 60 years.

For daily TV ratings, visit EW.COM