Who else but producer Nigel Lythgoe could bring together eight counties to compete in a dance competition and corral one of the most popular dancers in the world to serve as host? In Lythgoe's latest project, there is no audience voting, no celebrity contestants and no amateurs learning the tango. However, "Superstars of Dance" does have a roster of international professional dancers and Irish step dancer, flautist and choreographer Michael Flatley serving as host. Lythgoe and Flatley sat down to explain the new NBC series and how the show differs from the other dance shows on the landscape today.
The initial task of explaining how "Superstars of Dance" works fell on Lythgoe, who stated, "the easy way to explain it is we have quarterfinals, semifinals and a final - exactly the same as any normal sort of sporting competition. But each team has brought over their own group of dancers and people that can replace them as well, or replacement dancers in case we have any accident. Again, like any sporting team you have reserves waiting there." The competition is not only about group dancing, he added. "Each team has brought over two soloists who will compete, a duet that will compete [as well as] a group... so in some shows they'll put one soloist and one group. In another show they'll put a soloist and the duet. And this will break down and at the end of the day 16 soloists will have competed. They will be broken down into the semifinals by getting rid of the bottom eight soloists. Then, we lose two groups and two duets so that in the semifinals you will have three duets and three groups per semifinal."
Lythgoe confessed to believing the judging of the different dance styles is the most difficult part of the show. "The judges and the judges from the eight countries... each judge votes from one to ten points. They are not allowed to vote for their own country. So it really is a tough competition with, you know, some of the best people in the world dancing and some of the best choreographers in the world judging."
The rules applied to the judges, Flatley added, "[is] the exciting part of the whole show. That's what makes it so entertaining because they have to judge dancers from other ethnic origins and other countries from around the world. So for instance, you've got Master Wong who is the Grandmaster of the Shaolin Temple in China judging the Groovaloos from the streets here in America... so it's the way other people see it, I think, that just makes for an intoxicating mix of cultures."
Flatley also talked about what brought him into the fold of Lythgoe's latest series. "When Nigel first approached me I was fascinated by the thought that we could have a dance show that has professional dancers on there and that would show to American audiences for the first time all of the different styles of dance from around the world. And needless to say, it's being produced by the Dream Team, Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller and to me that meant that it was going to be done with a touch of class."
Flatley also revealed his thoughts on hosting instead of judging. "I am very happy to be the host and present it. Dance has always been my passion in life. Presenting a show like this, I think for me, is a real highlight... I must say I'm kind of glad I'm not judging because it's an intense competition - absolutely intense."
In response, Lythgoe couldn't help but share his thoughts while Flatley sat next to him during the interview. "From my point of view if I may add on... Michael Flatley is, without question I think, the world's best known dancer. I mean the world." He added, "to have [Michael Flatley] walk in there the minute these people are finished dancing -- they're out of breath and trying to, you know, grab that live moment -- it needs somebody who understands dance and understands all the different styles of dance. So from my point of view, Michael Flatley, thank goodness I got him. He is the best person I could ever have wished for. It's like getting a Christmas present early."
And how did the show end up on NBC when Lythgoe obviously has a winning track record at Fox? "In truth," he revealed, "I took -- and maybe NBC won't like me saying this -- but I took �So You Think You Can Dance' to NBC originally, because I didn't think Fox was a good home for it. NBC turned it down and I took it to Fox because of our association with �American Idol.' And I have to say Fox have been an exceptionally good home for it and been extremely supportive with the program. So I'm very grateful that that occurred. But it did allow me to come back to NBC because I wouldn't have liked to have seen the same program on the same network. So it would be, you know, crazy of me to sort of offer it to Fox, although [FOX reality chief] Mike Darnell suggested I should've done [that]. But it went to NBC and I'm delighted. NBC has been absolutely behind it."
And how does Lythgoe think "Superstars of Dance" differs from the current crop of successful dance competition programs? "Well, I think with the shows that we know like �Dancing With the Stars,' that's a bunch of celebrities who would like to dance. My own show, �So You Think You Can Dance' is a bunch of kids who would like to be dancers. And this is [a group of] professionals that have been doing it, have made their living through it. A lot of them are world champions in their specific genre, and it's a lot of different cultures coming together. And I think that's what's the most exciting part of it for me."
With dance being a part of his entire life, could Lythgoe choose a favorite form of dance? "I think ballroom. I love when bodies come together and they work as one. At the same time, I watched a group last night of hip-hoppers and there were 12 of them. And they were brilliant." Lythgoe then clarified that he loves to watch ballroom more than actually do it himself. "I trained in it as a kid [and] I'm not particularly great at it. I've always managed to tread on my wife's toes which is probably why she's divorcing me, actually."
Lythgoe also talked about his departure from "American Idol" and his part in the charity-based "Idol Gives Back" program. "Well, I've done Idol for seven years," he shared. "Doing �Idol Gives Back' meant a great deal to me. I'm sorry that we're not doing it this year, this coming year. So it gave me the opportunity to have a think of what I wanted to do. �So You Think You Can Dance' is hugely successful now all over the world. I wanted to travel the world and see the different forms of dance, which eventually became inspirational into creating this show. So it was just the right time, it felt like. And now that I'm involved in this show which in truth I have to honestly say it's the most exciting show I've ever done in my life for how I grew up and what I went through, and everything else as a kid. That - I am so pleased and I know the time was right for me to leave American Idol."
With all the popularity surrounding shows like "American Idol," "So You Think You Can Dance," and "Dancing With The Stars," the variety genre is definitely not dead. Lythgoe agreed and responded by stating, "I think people forgot what the word meant and it does mean a variety of things. You don't have to enjoy everything." He added that the variety genre serves another purpose, as well. "It brings families together and it allows families to sit there together and argue because you're allowed to do that. You're allowed to have different opinions... all of these what we now call reality shows are just a different dressing for the shows that we used to love when we were growing up, and they are variety shows. The big word for me is entertainment and that's what sometimes we forget to do with television programs."
Lythgoe also had some thoughts about the way programmers decide what shows make it on the air in the first place. "Sometimes we get carried away and certainly television stations -- both in your country and my own country -- get into demographics. How do we appeal to this demographic? What can we do to appeal to that demographic? Forget that sometimes and just say make an entertainment show that everyone will love and that's - when we started looking at �American Idol,' [they'd say] �don't sing all those old songs. You've got to appeal to the kids today.' No you haven't. The show appeals to everybody. It appeals to a family audience. And you don't get bigger audiences than a family audience."
If you're curious to see if "Superstars of Dance" appeals to you, the competition commences this Sunday at 9:00/8:00c before moving to its regular Monday night timeslot of 8:00/7:00c on NBC.