Hines Ward makes 'Dancing With the Stars' a hit here

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LOS ANGELES -- Thanks to Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, it's OK for guys to watch the glitterfest that is televised ballroom dancing.

That in turn has led to glittering ratings. The Monday night "Dancing With the Stars," which is waltzing toward its May 23-24 season finale, regularly brings in more than 20 million viewers nationwide.

Locally, it has been a ratings bonanza. For six consecutive weeks, WTAE has been the affiliate with the strongest ratings, compared with all ABC stations in Local People Meter (LPM) markets in overall household ratings and key demos (adults, women, and men ages 18-49 and 25-54).

"We're even getting double-digit male numbers, and that's weird," said Tatia O'Connor, WTAE director of research and client services.

In Pittsburgh last Monday, 43 percent of the homes with a TV set turned on were watching the performance show. The following night, against stiffer competition, 22 percent watched a one-hour recap, and 37 percent saw the results show.

In what surely must be an unprecedented alibi, one of the accused assailants in the recent shooting of a Clairton police officer is claiming he was at home, watching "Dancing With the Stars" with his mother.

This is the 12th edition of a show based on the BBC hit "Strictly Come Dancing," and before it began, there was some grousing that the celebrity lineup was less than remarkable. With no Bristol Palin or Kate Gosselin, there were few polarizing contestants, and what's a reality TV show without that?

Many expected actress Kirstie Alley to fit the bill, but she has been a charming, self-deprecating mess. Instead, this season's crew has been a collection of smiling good guys (actor Ralph Macchio, Mr. Ward) and amusing bad girls (former Playboy housemate Kendra Wilkinson, Ms. Alley).

The dancing competition has been unusually close, which means the winner will be whomever has the biggest viewer fan base. So far, Steelers Nation has done an admirable job of keeping Mr. Ward and his partner, Australian dancer Kym Johnson, on top.

ABC notes this is the second-most-watched season of DWTS; could it be viewers are embracing "nice"?

"While I anticipated it [ratings] to be strong, never could I have dreamed it would win every night nationally as the No. 1-rated show in the country. But certainly on an overall basis, it's not surprising me," said Michael Hayes, WTAE president and general manager.

Three years ago, when Mr. Hayes held a similar post at NBC's WYFF in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., local couple Amy and Phil Parham were contestants on "The Biggest Loser."

This has been a much bigger deal in that, first, the WYFF market is considerably smaller than WTAE's, but also in that the couple "became celebrities through the show.

"This [Mr. Ward] is someone who already had celebrity status. When it was announced Hines was on the show, it was a tune-in factor."

Certainly, the sports tie-in really helps: "I think the impact of the Steelers and sports on the marketplace is fairly self-evident, and when that translates to entertainment ... that clearly understates how broad that reach is," Mr. Hayes said.

The numbers don't lie. The importance of ratings can be weighed in various ways. Advertisers covet ratings/share, which indicates what percentages of households are watching particular programming at a particular time.

In terms of household ratings, "DWTS" has scored bigger numbers in the past five years than any other regularly scheduled, nonsports show in Pittsburgh.

Then there are sheer numbers -- Super Bowl XLV between the Steelers and Green Bay Packers last winter drew a record 111 million viewers. Compare that with viewers who watched President Obama's late-night speech announcing the death of Osama bin Laden (57 million), or George W. Bush's 9/11 address to the nation (82 million), Princess Diana's 1997 funeral (33 million) or the April 29 royal wedding (just under 23 million).

A popular show such as "DWTS," Fox's "American Idol" and even NBC's singing newbie, "The Voice," can easily pull in 13 million to 20 million on a given night.

While WTAE won't put a dollar amount on what this means to ad revenues, it's safe to say the glow of that Mirrorball trophy has considerably brightened this rainy Pittsburgh spring.

"The medium is defined as 'eyeballs deliver dollars, ratings drive rate,' " Mr. Hayes said.

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478. First Published May 10, 2011 4:00 AM


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