Disney Learns to Dance

If you find yourself doing a double take over a two-step, it's probably because Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) ABC has invaded the primetime airwaves with the first surprise hit of the summer, Dancing With the Stars. The reality show's debut earlier this month was the second-most-watched television show of the week. Last week's second installment drew an even larger audience.

No big deal, right? It's June. The doldrums have set in. All of the networks have aired the last of their new hit shows until September. Fine. But I can't be the only one blown away at how well a show that seemed destined for failure is faring.

When I first saw the teasers, I was cynical. Where were the stars? Here was a show that paired professional dancers with B-list celebrities in a weekly competitive dancing competition, and I couldn't even make out who the supposedly famous ones were. OK, I did recognize Evander Holyfield, but that was it.

ABC has interpreted the definition of "celebrity" loosely in the past. Anyone remember the superstar cast of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here or Celebrity Mole? Of course not. They made the washed-up saps who signed up for The Surreal Life on Viacom's (NYSE: VIA  ) VH1 appear relevant.

That was strike one. The second whiffer, in my biased mind, came from the questionable allure of ballroom dancing. Disney's ESPN will show people playing cards and kids in a spelling bee before cutting away to a tango. How could this work?

Looks like strike three isn't coming; the show is a hit. It just goes to show how good things happen when you're in a programming groove. At this time last year, ABC was a mess. Then came Desperate Housewives and Lost. Those attracted even more eyeballs -- and sponsors. ABC is winning over the crowd that General Electric's (NYSE: GE  ) NBC is losing, and the network's recovery continues even in the seasonally dull days of summer.

So Disney, may I have this dance?

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz remembers struggling to get the waltz down pat, so maybe he's just jealous. He owns shares in Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

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