Dancing with the Stars' ratings triumph: 4 theories

Without big names like Bristol Palin, many speculated that this season, the show's 12th, would be a total dud. Instead, its season was the highest rated yet

"Dancing With The Stars" winners Hines Ward his partner Kym Johnson celebrate Tuesday night: The 12th season averaged 22.5 million viewers, and increase from last year.
(Image credit: Facebook/Dancing With The Stars)

When the cast of season 12's Dancing with the Stars — which crowned the NFL's Hines Ward its winner in Tuesday's finale — was announced earlier this year, commentators were vocally "underwhelmed" by the list, especially after a drama-filled 11th season that pitted Dirty Dancing's Jennifer Grey against Bristol Palin. The few familiar names on the season 12 slate — actress/dieter Kirstie Alley, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, and Karate Kid Ralph Macchio failed to impress, and many forecast a ratings dud. In the end, it's been anything but. This season ended up being the most watched ever, and its Tuesday finale beat out American Idol's final performance show, a first-ever occurrence. What happened?

1. Bristol alienated some viewers

While Palin brought some new viewers and plenty of attention to the show last year, she also alienated some longtime fans, says Lisa de Moraes in The Washington Post. This season, shell-shocked fans "crawled back out from their bunkers" to watch.

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2. There was plenty of drama this year

You don't need a "polarizing political figure" like Palin for good TV, says de Moraes. From winner Hines Ward nearly breaking his partner's neck in rehearsal to Kirstie Alley's partner collapsing under her during a live, televised dance to Wendy Williams "Big Breast Crisis," "this season had drama seeping from its pores."

3. Charlie Sheen sabotaged the competition

In the absence of the unhinged Charlie Sheen, CBS has been airing repeats of its Monday-night hit, Two and a Half Men, "which has enabled rivals [like DWTS] to snatch some viewers," says Scott Collins in the Los Angeles Times.

4. American Idol didn't compete, either

While Idol's final performance and DWTS's finale faced off Tuesday night, Idol's regular shows this season were moved from Tuesday nights to Wednesdays and Thursdays. That's another "competitive factor" that could have helped DWTS' ratings, says Collins.

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