Here are some thoughts on how the show can inject some new life into itself while still maintaining the core that makes it special.
Mix up the judging. This show has had the same panel of judges judging in the exact same way for far too long. Mix it up! Bring on a fourth judge — perhaps a former pro the audience already loves. Or, in a more extreme move, fire one or more of the judges and just plain replace them. And personnel changes aren't the only thing we have in mind. We loved the addition of the .5 paddles for All Stars. The judges should have kept those; they helped make the numbers seem somewhat less arbitrary and unfair.
Keep it fair. Speaking of fairness, the fact that some pros can break choreography rules and still come out with relatively high scores frustrates dedicated fans and reeks of favoritism; plus, things get confusing when, say, Len decides to randomly get pissed at choreography and gives a 7 to a dance the other judges gave a 10. Personally, we like the more creative choreography, but if the show is going to allow it, allow it. Heck, we'd even be fine with the show encouraging everyone to mix it up by tweaking the rules so that more out-there dances fall within the bounds of acceptable. But whatever happens, make the rules clear and uniform.
Keep the focus on the dancing. That said, we prefer dances that show off actual dancing. Part of the reason Kellie's Freestyle was so loved (beyond it being amazing) was that it didn't distract with crazy staging and flashing lights. Spectacle is fun, but only in small doses. We'd rather see spectacular dancing. (Read: Please return to the normal Freestyle, not the Supersized one.)
Shake up the dynamics. Derek Hough was paired with a strong dancer this year? Color us completely unsurprised. We realize the playing field is never going to be totally even, and some pros work better with certain kinds of stars than others, but it gets boring to see the exact same dynamic over and over again. Part of the joy of watching winner Melissa Rycroft on All Stars was seeing Tony finally have a chance to shine after countless seasons stuck with non-starters and drama queens.
Develop new pros. People miss Maksim Chmerkovskiy this season. People will miss Derek Hough when he leaves (and, remember, he almost wasn't in this season). While we'd love to see our favorite pros stick around forever, we understand that they have other career interests to pursue. The show should be focusing on finding the next generation of big pro stars. For example, as much as we love Sharna Burgess with Andy Dick, we hope the DWTS Powers That Be have the sense to give her a strong dancer next season, because she has the makings of a powerhouse pro. And please, for the love of ballroom, someone give Tristan MacManus a contender!
What changes would you like to see? Sound off in the comments below.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaDMartin.