Philly Station Puts New 'Twist' on Dance Show

Teenybopper pop music programs in Philly go back to 'Bandstand,' and step forward too

Like the cheesesteak and Rocky Balboa, the teen dance
show Dancin’ on Air was once a local institution in Philadelphia.
The show ran for seven years in the 1980s, airing five days a week
at 4 p.m., and offered beforethey-
were-famous moments
in the spotlight for the likes of
Madonna and Duran Duran.

After repeats of the big-hair,
high-cheese shows—featuring
some “Where Are They Now?”
updates—popped in the ratings
last summer, Vincent Giannini,
VP and general manager of
Tribune Broadcasting-owned
MyNetworkTV affiliate WPHL,
opted to shoot 13 new episodes
for Saturday mornings.
“We got a great response and
decided to bring [the show]
back with first-run episodes,”
says Giannini. “It has new
music and new hosts, and
we’re giving it a shot.”

Dance shows have been
part of the Philadelphia cultural
landscape for more than
a half-century. American Bandstand, of course, debuted as Bandstand in
Philly in 1952. Other local dance shows have included The Discophonic
, Summertime on the Pier and Hy Lit. Chuck Darrow, a features and
entertainment writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, says the shows
spawned from the city’s prominence on the national music scene, and
the fact that dancing has simply always been a part of teen culture in
the region.

“Philadelphia is not only the cradle of liberty,” Darrow says. “It’s the
cradle of televised dance parties, too.”

The rebooted Dancin’ on Air, produced by On Air Productions and
original executive producer Michael Nise, isn’t the only youth dance
series on today in DMA No. 4. NBC-owned WCAU shows the pre-teen
Party Rockers Tween Scene on Saturdays at 11 a.m.; the station has aired
a teen version of the show at midnight as well.

Darrow says the decision to bring back Dancin’ on Air was “fairly big
news here.”

Premiering in 1981, Dancin’ offered a glimpse at up-and-coming acts
before MTV—with its game-changing videos—was widely distributed.
The show had local flavor as well. Dancers included a telegenic South
Jersey girl named Kelly Ripa, and performers included the Fresh Prince
(a.k.a. West Philly kid Will Smith), Menudo (featuring a young Ricky
Martin) and New Kids on the Block. Giannini says Dancin’ routinely
bested national dance shows,
including American Bandstand
and Soul Train, in the ratings.
Dancin’ was syndicated in
1986 as Dance Party USA.

“It’s not exactly accurate to
call it an ’80s American Bandstand,
but it certainly had a
place in the Philly market. No
question about it,” says Darrow.
“It was important to the artists
to be on the show.”

The new season shoots at a
club called The Fuge, which
is short for Centrifuge. Eric
Shipon, executive VP of marketing
for On Air Productions,
describes the place as a former
covert aeronautic testing center
that has been converted
into an events space. The offbeat
venue adds to the show’s
funky vibe, Shipon says: “People
like the idea that they never knew it existed.”

Dancin’ gets 250-300 kids out on the floor, says Giannini. Recent
guests have included the Philadelphia Phillies’ ball girls and the Philadelphia
76ers’ dance crew, along with the pop acts DaCaV5 and Rita Ora.
(If you haven’t heard of those performers, Giannini stresses that Dancin’s
musical acts are up-and-coming, same as Madonna—her poofy, frosted
hair spilling out of a fedora—was when she visited in 1982.)

WPHL will give Dancin’ on Air a primetime boost May 27 with a
two-hour Memorial Day weekend special. The show has increased its
average rating among kids 12-17 since premiering March 31, up to a
0.6. Household ratings have not done as well, premiering with a 0.4
and slipping to a 0.2 four weeks later—perhaps indicating the nostalgia
factor subsiding among Gen X viewers.

But the kids are key. “It’s not a big adult push, but the 12-17 numbers
are starting to pop,” says Giannini. “It gets a lot of viral play. Every kid
on the show tells their friends, and they tell their friends.”

Dancin’ is a branding play for WPHL as well. “We want to get into
original productions that set the station apart,” Giannini adds. “Eventually,
we’d like to think it will be a good source of revenue.”

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