In an age where audiences cling to nostalgia for comfort begins the resurgence of “classic” reality shows. Shows like MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen and American Idol (which is slated to premier in 2017-2018) reappear on our television screens once again. While FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance, not dissimilar to series like Survivor, The Amazing Race and America’s Next Top Model have attempted to maintain their spot on-air by changing up their format to stay relevant.
Now, more than halfway through their 14th season, SYTYCD producers have concocted many a twist to keep audiences watching. Recent years have birthed new formats like “Stage vs. Street” and last seasons “So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation”, which both struggled to bring in views and capture the hearts of dance enthusiasts.
With the show in danger of cancellation, producer Nigel Lithgow introduced the goal of this season, “giving our loyal fan base what they’ve been asking for”. The new structure we’ve seen is caught somewhere in between the “back to basics” original formatting, where unknown dancers are challenged each week with new routines in styles ranging from Bollywood to Hip Hop, while also catering to that growing hunger for nostalgic influence. Identifiable “All Stars” that appeared during the show’s heyday, like Allison Holker and Comfort Fedoke, now mentor new contestants, dancing alongside them throughout the competition.
This twist on the original format has lead to SYTYCD slowly creeping upward on Monday night’s ratings, improving in viewership yet still falling below American Ninja Warrior and Bachelor in Paradise. However, shows that have largely kept their structure identical since their inception continue to grow in audience.
Mary Murphy, an original SYTYCD judge who returned this season, pinpoints the exact key to this formatting problem during her interview with Entertainment Weekly. She explains, “she was a bit nervous with the format since it has become more difficult for her to remember the names of the contestants”.
So You Think You Can Dance’s new format is a total sensory overload, attempting to keep up with audience’s attention span, which, according to researchers, is dwindling at a rapid rate. But following the dancer’s journey, their mentors challenges, the storied routines and the choreographers insights is all too much to cram into an episode a week. When focus is placed on all of these factors, there is no emphasis placed on any, least of all on the dancing or the names of the actual dancers.
Series that, for the most part, stayed true to their roots, focus on what reality television should be, an often revealing, entertaining and crazy reflection of people’s lives as they struggle towards a goal. The twists added to SYTYCD’s format shift focus from this human element, making it forgettable and disconnected from its audience.
Perhaps in other years this would not be a huge game changer for this reality television series. But in this political climate, there’s a growing need for this quasi-reality, where one can tune weekly, know with certainty the structure of what will happen, while connecting with other people. And with that human element displaced, So You Think You Can Dance just doesn’t make the cut.