By Rob Owen
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – If you love to hateLifetime’s “Dance Moms” (10 p.m. Wednesday), prepare to hurl invectives at your computer while reading this interview with Lifetime executive vice president of programming Rob Sharenow, whose description of the show is at odds with local folks who claim producers staged situations for maximum drama.
Set at a Penn Hills dance studio, the series focuses on Abby Lee Miller, who comes off as a tyrannical dance instructor. Even in a recent interview with TV Guide, Miller said much of what’s on “Dance Moms” “would never, ever happen. It’s television.” She said she’s not concerned about the program hurting her business.
“As far as business in Pittsburgh, business is bad anyway. Pittsburgh is a very depressed community,” Miller told TV Guide. “I built my building from the ground up. As far as the general public is concerned, I always tell people that you need to look like a dance teacher like you're looking for a pediatrician. It's hands-on, and you might be with them from age 3 to 18: I've spent 15 years with [some]. I see them more than their families do.”
Read the Q&A, edited for length and clarity, with Lifetime’s Sharenow, after the jump. ...
Rob: How were the ratings for episode three this week?
Sharenow: It basically held or might have grown a little bit but I think it was strong. We were pleased. One of the indicators we look for is that every time we air “Dance Moms” it grows within itself, which to me is the purest indication people who are watching the show are liking it.
Rob: So that means the ratings grow through the hour?
Sharenow: Yes, it grows through the hour. If a million people are watching, by the end, more than that are watching. When shows aren’t working, the opposite happens.
Rob: When will you decide if there will be a season two?
Sharenow: Oh, we’re still in week three so there’s no exact metric. I’m very encouraged about the show. I think one of the things that’s most incredible about the show is how real it is. These are real characters. A lot of people wonder, is this a staged reality show? There’s nothing staged. This is a real studio; these are real dance moms. The girls are absolutely amazing dancers and I think one of the things is there’s such a weird level of skepticism when viewers watch quote-unquote reality shows where people assume people are acting and pretending. Well, that isn’t the case with this show. These are real dancers, real moms and Abby obviously has got a real dance studio and this is what goes on.
Rob: What do you say to people who say you are giving a very large pulpit to a bully?
Sharenow: I think Abby is a complete, real, authentic character and she trains champions. You may not approve of her methods and may not want that particular method for your own child or your own family but I think the people who go to her studio are pleased with the results and know what they are getting into and I do think that she is incredible in what she gets out of these kids and how she trains them.
Rob: People say, “My dance teacher wasn’t that way, this is emotionally abusive to kids, why are these moms taking their children there?” A lot of people are not happy with that. Sometimes it’s directed at Abby, sometimes it’s directed at Lifetime for giving her a show.
Sharenow: I think Lifetime is portraying a fascinating world. Let me answer it this way: These girls are incredible talents and top-level dancers. This isn’t a show about beauty queens where they’re dolled up and pushed in front of the camera. These girls are going through grueling training and training rigorously and some people don’t approve of the methods of the coach but this isn’t a beauty contest or fashion show where little girls dress up. These girls are trained to be professional athletes but I think seeing the rigors of that is intense.
Rob: But the show isn’t really about the girls. It’s about their mothers.
Sharenow: I think it’s about the inter-relation between the mothers, the coach and the children and I think if you take any piece out and it’s not as interesting a show. My girls are dancers and my girls are fascinated by the show and I think there are sacrifices to be made if you want to be the best and I think that’s one of the things the show has going for it. They truly are the best dancers. They typically win national competitions. They’re not ordinary dancers, it’s not an ordinary dance studio. Again, if people aren’t pleased with her methods, it’s a judgment call and we’re portraying the reality of what’s there and we’re not making a value judgment on it. When one of the mothers disapproves of Abby or her methods we give that voice as well. It’s not just a pulpit for her position. There are plenty of episodes where the mothers think what she is doing is inappropriate and they say so and that’s part of the show and part of the conflict and that’s very much a part of what goes on with top-level athletes.
Rob: How did you find Abby?
Sharenow: The production company, Collins Avenue, who are terrific, they did a nationwide search to find the best dance studio and best dance instructor in the country. I think Pittsburgh is a great setting. I am always drawn to locations that aren’t on TV all the time. These are real people. My experience as a dance parent is it’s much closer to my experience as a parent – not that my daughter’s coach is that way – but it’s showing a piece of reality that’s very familiar and, again, I think the level of outrage is really in the eye of the beholder. When people look at skaters or people who play professional football or anything at that level is intense and I don’t think every parent would make that choice for their child but that’s what makes the show interesting. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill dance studio. She’s not your run-of-the-mill coach and these kids are truly extraordinary in their ability and I think that one of the things for me that one of the most satisfying parts of the show is at the end of the show is she drives these girls hard but look at the artistry, look at what they’re accomplishing and they really are accomplishing something and that is quite extraordinary and beautiful.