Adam Larkey, ABC
Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson

You could almost feel sorry for the producers of "Dancing With the Stars" (Tuesday, 8:01 p.m., Ch. 4) at the end of each season. They've got two hours to conduct about two minutes' worth of business.

On the other hand, it would be sort of nice if ABC's Powers That Be spared us the hour and 58 minutes of filler and just gave us maybe a 30-minute finale.

That will probably happen right after we get an hourlong Academy Awards ceremony, because clearly that's more than enough time to hand out the Oscars.

So in other words, it's never going to happen.

To pad out Tuesday's two-hour finale, we'll see:

All 16 couples from this season will return for special performances.

Mark Dacascos and Chuck Liddell will compete in a dance floor face-off.

Ex-NFL stars Michael Irvin (from this season) and Jerry Rice (Season 2) will compete against each other.

Former contestants Cloris Leachman, Steve Wozniak and Jerry Springer will dance in a competition Mambo.

Ashley Hamilton — the first contestant eliminated this season — will be inducted into the Loser's Club.

Speaking of losers, Adam Carolla returns as "the Coach" for the finalists.

The Muppets will make an appearance.

Whitney Houston will perform two songs — "Million Dollar Bill" from her new album and, appropriately enough, her 1987 hit "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

And maybe she can compare embarrassing reality show notes with finalist Kelly Osbourne.

So you can tune in for all that. Or you can tune in for the last couple of minutes of the show to see who wins.

IT'S ENTERTAINMENT: Really, folks, "Dancing With the Stars" is not so much about the competition. It's about the entertainment.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It is what it is. And it's been very successful for ABC.

(Except not so much this season. Ratings have dropped off significantly.)

And the participants certainly take the competition seriously. At least most of them do.

But let's keep some perspective here. "Dancing With the Stars" is not a genuine dancing competition. If it were, the best dancer would win.

That clearly is not the case. And it's never going to be the case as long as viewers vote for the winner.

That's true of lots of TV shows, including other dance programs. There's a reason that Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" bills its winner as "America's favorite dancer" and not "America's best dancer."

Let's try to be logical for just a moment. I know, the subject is prime-time TV, but let's try.

If "Dancing With the Stars" were a genuine competition, Donny Osmond wouldn't still be competing this week.

That's not a slam at Osmond. I like him. I really like him.

I didn't exactly grow up a fan, but I've interviewed Osmond numerous times over the years and he's always been incredibly kind, helpful and patient. There are a few people I'm always happy to deal with, and he's one of them.

But even Osmond was more than a bit surprised that he wasn't eliminated last week after he and partner Kym Johnson had a disastrous outing in one of their three numbers.

Even though the judges were kinder than they should have been — giving the performance sevens (out of 10) — Osmond and Johnson were in last place after the judges voted.

But the fans, who ignored the performances, voted Osmond into the finals and Joanna Krupa out. Because "Dancing With the Stars" is a popularity contest.


ABC, the show's producers and its participants get it. Some of the fans don't.

Those are the folks I worry about. The ones who forget that this show is supposed to be fun, not deadly serious.

So enjoy tonight's season finale. Just don't worry too much about who wins.

ALL THAT SAID: This is being written before Monday's episode airs, but — regardless of the performances — you've got to think that Osmond has a darn good chance to win.

It will, in large part, come down to who has the biggest fan base. And he's up against singer Mya and reality-show personality Kelly Osbourne.

Given the demographic makeup of the "Dancing With the Stars" audience, it would be foolish to count Osmond out no matter what happened on Monday.