There is a huge difference between a “celebrity” and a “star.” With the exception of the adult movie business, you have to have talent demonstrated through a body of work to be considered a star. But you can be a celebrity for all kinds of stupid reasons — from having over a million followers on MySpace to being pregnant with eight children.
In the world of celebrities, some are like Omarosa in that they are notorious, and some are like Bernie Madoff in that they’ve been disgraced. When casting a feel-good prime-time reality TV show for a major American broadcast network, you don’t want to go any further than “notorious” for your mandatory villain. It’s too bad Conrad Green, the executive producer of “Dancing With the Stars” is British, so he didn’t realize what an incredibly bad idea it was to include former Republican House Speaker Tom DeLay in this season’s cast.
In Green’s defense, ABC doesn’t really rely on stars. Their best shows (“Lost,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Desperate Housewives”) all feature good ensemble casts. Their only show that features the star’s name in the title (ala “Roseanne”) is “According to Jim” which, ironically enough, is the least recognizable of his two names and isn’t the one for which he’s best known.
Since “DWTS” has featured mostly actors and athletes, I could understand the tongue-in-cheek use of the word “stars” in the show’s title. If you go back far enough in a professional athlete’s life, you’ll find he or she was the star of some team at some point and the actors have usually starred in at least one production. Some of the wildcards have been understandable (Steve Wozniak is definitely a star in the geek world and newly-single Kim Kardashian is technically a porn star) but the only other Washington-based contestant on the show (Tucker Carlson) was also a swing-and-a-miss in casting.
I understand the logic behind the decision to cast a semi-political figure like Carlson or a former elected official like DeLay. All of a sudden, “DWTS” is being talked about on cable news shows, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will do bits about it, and we’ll probably hear about it in a few late-night talk show monologues. And it would all be very funny and we could all feel good having a laugh together — if we were talking about Conrad Green’s “dream booking,” Bill Clinton, or his second choice, Dan Quayle.
But we’re not. We’re talking about a man who is scheduled to go on trial for felony money laundering in connection with re-election campaigns for Republicans in Texas, the result of which allowed him to illegally redraw districts in the middle of a census cycle to disenfranchise black voters. We’re talking about a man who has taken bundles and bundles of cash from convicted felon Jack Abramoff, and even flew on the disgraced former lobbyist’s jet to the Super Bowl and on a golf junket to St. Andrews in Scotland. At Abramoff’s request, DeLay also blocked legislation to end sweatshop conditions in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands and called the business-first, anti-union climate “a perfect petri dish of capitalism. It’s like my Galapagos Island.”
It came as no surprise to me that DeLay was available, excited, and “said yes in about 10 minutes,” according to Green. I was, however, surprised to learn the search process stopped when DeLay was booked, and even more surprised when I found out what the producers were looking for. Green said part of the criteria was that the political figure they cast not currently be in office, that it be someone that everybody knows, and he wanted someone without partisan ties.
“We don’t want to get into that morass,” he said. He got the first part right (though he should be worried about the whole impending-trial-for-felony-money-laundering thing), but he doesn’t seem to understand that the reason everybody knows DeLay is because of his partisan ties. Part of the reason he got his nickname, The Hammer, is because he considered every Democrat in the House of Representatives to be a nail.
But this move will probably work, some cable news viewers will watch the season premiere, and nobody will even remember this ever happened once Tommy does the “perp walk” dance right off the stage and into prison. That doesn’t mean it was right to validate this man in this way — even if he’s humiliated in the process.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to tell Conrad Green how to do his job. After all, what would I, a man raised in and on American popular culture, be able to tell an Englishman who produced “Big Brother UK” about what appeals to American audiences? But If I was, I’d tell him that his dream booking isn’t Bill Clinton, it’s Sarah Palin — she’s athletic, she’ll look great in costume, she’s got plenty of free time, millions of people will tune in to watch her, and she’s just crazy enough to say yes.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who won’t dance, don’t ask him. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org