Bob Damico, ABC
"Dancing" judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli.

A couple of years ago — during the (sarcasm alert) Big Scandal over Kelly Monaco beating John O'Hurley on Season 1 of "Dancing With the Stars" — the judges on that show got in a shouting match of sorts with a few TV critics.

(Not yours truly. I was only an observer. Really.)

When it was suggested that Monaco won because of her ties to ABC (she was on "General Hospital" at the time), the judges were incensed.

"That's totally nonsense!" Bruno Tonioli insisted. "We're all professional!"

The question is — professional what?

There's no accreditation process for TV show dance judges. And Tonioli, Carrie Ann Inaba and Len Goodman weren't chosen just because they're dance experts. They're performing just as much as anyone on the "Dancing," which returns Monday at 7 p.m. on Ch. 4.

Which is not to impugn their dance resumes. Len Goodman was head judge on "Strictly Come Dancing," the British TV show that was adapted into "Dancing With the Stars" on this side of the pond, but he's a former professional dancer and teacher who owns his own dance school in England.

Goodman also has a British accent, which is almost a requirement for one of the TV judges in the age of "American Idol." And he's the mean one, sort of like fellow Brit Simon Cowell.

Tonioli is also a veteran of the British show, and the native Italian was a professional dancer and choreographer. (He's also done a bit of acting — he had a bit part in the 2003 Amanda Bynes movie "What a Girl Wants.")

And Tonioli is more theatrical than your average Broadway musical. His unbounded enthusiasm can overwhelm the show at times. And, as local viewers noted, he didn't just tell Marie Osmond her final dance was bad — which it was — he called it "the loopiest thing I have ever seen.... It's like Baby Jane and the Bride of Chuckie."

(You can't really argue with him when he's right.)

Carrie Ann Inaba is also a professional dancer/choreographer with a long list of credits. And she's a part-time actress who's small parts in "In Living Color," "Showgirls," "Flintstones 2" and the second and third "Austin Powers" movies.

The fact is that while "Dancing With the Stars" is a reality/competition show, it has more in common with old-style variety shows than "American Idol." It's entertainment with guest "Stars," and the competition doesn't really mean much.

Plus, despite the presence of Goodman, Tonioli and Inaba, it's the viewers who decide who wins and who loses. And they're voting on who the like best, not always on who dances the best.

The judges are just playing their parts, performing for the cameras.

It's all part of the act.


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