Crossovers Work For Reality Shows, Too

I didn’t see the season premiere of Dancing With the Stars last night — more specifically, I didn’t want to see it, because this year’s lineup of celebrities doesn’t interest me much — but it had its best-rated premiere in several years. The reason was the power of cross-promotion, which works for reality even better than it does for something like Grey’s Anatomy:

The show’s producers had to scramble after dancing celebs Nancy O’Dell and Jewel dropped out last week. But the eleventh-hour casting of scorned “Bachelor” contestant Melissa Rycroft was a stroke-of-genius move that not only capitalized on the dating competition’s success this season, but also managed to extend ABC’s Monday night reality show “story” from one series to another. Complete with a judge praising Rycroft’s performance and dissing her ex-fiance Jason Mesnick, last night’s “Dancing” debut played like a feel-good “Bachelor” finale do-over with Cinderella finally going to the ball.

The use of reality contestants as “stars” is something I’ve never really liked about shows like Dancing With the Stars. It seems to detract from their main source of appeal, which is a return to the Hollywood Squares/Match Game type of show. (It’s like that time someone tried to revive Battle of the Network Stars with reality stars. Reality contestants aren’t supposed to be generic “celebrities,” they’re supposed to be real people who happened to be on television. Putting them forward as celebrities just confuses the whole issue.) But the reality contestants are probably better known to much of the audience than a lot of the actors, athletes and other professional celebrities in any given lineup, and when one reality show has a chance to set right what another one got wrong, that does provide for some interesting synergy. You can’t really get that effect with a crossover on a scripted show.