What's new this season of "Dancing With the Stars"? What isn't? So tweaked and revamped are so many elements that this edition could be called "The New Dancing With the Stars."
Take that glass-enclosed balcony, for example. What glass-enclosed balcony you (rightfully) ask? "DWTS" has added a "sky box" from which contestants, or "stars," as they are quaintly referred to on this set, can watch other stars dance. They can boo, or cheer, or gasp or groan - without a sound escaping to the audience or dance floor below. You will be able to see and hear their reactions. "It will make more like a sporting event," explains "DWTS" executive producer Conrad Green.
Meanwhile, there is that aforementioned cast. The ninth season was ruled (foolishly in hindsight) by the edict that more was more. It was stuffed with 16 couples, most of whom failed to bond with viewers if numbers were an indication - the season-opener was exactly 5 million viewers lower than the eighth season, and the finale (19.2 million) was the lowest since the first season.
This season is ruled by less-is-more. There will be only 11 couples because, as Green says, "We wanted to focus on what people liked, so we focused on getting great names made it deliberately smaller to get your head around it more easily."
MY SAY: Last season seemed to drag itself across the finish line, so battered were the stars, the pros and the viewers. "DWTS" had become a chore and a bore - a big part of the problem was that dishrag of a cast.
By contrast, this is the strongest lineup ever because you will have (and likely already do) strong opinions about each. Here are the stars with their pro partners:
Buzz Aldrin (with Ashly DelGrosso-Costa)
A bona-fide hero, the second man to step on the moon, Aldrin could stumble across the floor and still get votes
Pamela Anderson (Damian Whitewood)
Insanely inspired casting move. Everyone will watch to "See How Pam Does." Why? Because we must. That's why.
ESPN star reporter is fresh from a traumatic stalker trial that turned her into a household name. Will she generate a sympathy vote?
Geeeenius. Sheer geeeenius. Shannen is perfect. We will watch to see if she punches anyone out. (Does Bruno know what he's in for?)
Kate Gosselin (with Tony Dovolani)
Already causing a rumpus, the tabloids claim. They say the reality-TV mom is being haughty. Says Green: "I feel for that poor woman. You hear she's a terrible diva, but she's an absolute pleasure. . . . Nothing in those rumors."
Evan Lysacek (with Anna Trebunskaya)
The gold medal men's single figure-skating champ is already the front-runner.
Niecy Nash (with Louis van Amstel)
Beloved by fans of Comedy Central's hilarious "Reno 911!"
Beloved by fans of formerly hilarious Bengals, and in fact by a lot of NFL fans. A great receiver, but a great clown, too; recall the time he tried to bribe an official with one dollar to reverse a call?
Not exactly Mr. Excitement, but he will last a while here.
Nicole Scherzinger (with Derek Hough)
The Pussycat Doll and part of this show's desperate and perhaps futile attempt to reverse its plummeting 18-to-49-year-old viewership.
Aiden Turner (Edyta Sliwinska)
Former "All My Children" star, now "DWTS" eyecandy.