Credit: Adam Taylor/ABC Television Group © 2011 Disney Photo: DWTS Season 13, Week 10 Costumes: Ricki Lake & Derek Hough, Cha-Cha-Cha: Hit

Was it the number? Thirteen tends to be unlucky.

Even though Dancing With the Stars Season 13 had a very happy ending for J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff, it wasn’t too happy for The Powers That Be. They are going to have to crunch the numbers now to consider why the Fall 2011 ratings were down so many viewers from the past few seasons.

So how did we go from most watched overall to the lowest performance finale ever? All we can do from here is speculate, but we all probably have a few similar theories...

It’s the stars, stupid!
The quality of the cast is widely acknowledged to be key in getting eyeballs to the televisions. But “stars” doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be Brad and Angie. David Hasselhoff is a household name — just ask Germany! — and yet he went first on Season 11, while relative unknowns like Kyle Massey, Chelsea Kane and J.R. Martinez all ended up making the finals of their seasons.

It’s more likely the full list of names brings people in — even if it’s just for the train-wreck curiosity factor — but they stay for the actual dance talent and personalities, which could come from anyone.

Every season a large portion of viewers shrug at the cast list and say “those are ‘stars’”? But this season it looks like they not only shrugged, they just didn’t care to watch. Part of it may have been from build-up. Over the summer this rumor came out that Season 13 would have A-list stars. Then the list came out and there was Rob Kardashian with Elisabetta Canalis, Kristin Cavallari and other decidedly non A-listers. It was a let down.

Take Season 10. That season had a great mix from astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson to Evan Lysacek — hot off the Olympics — and reality TV lightning-rod Kate Gosselin. Kate really stole the season, becoming the kind of “villain” fans loved to hate. On that note...

Credit: Adam Taylor/ABC Television Group © 2011 Disney Photo: Chaz Bono & Lacey Schwimmer, Week 4: Miss

Drama is (usually) good for ratings
People spent hours bashing Kate Gosselin on message boards but the proof was in the ratings — people seemed to watch just to see how she would do and when she would be eliminated. That trick worked even better for Bristol Palin, who helped bring huge finale ratings to Season 11 because many fans were flabbergasted that she could even get that far and were rubber-necking to see when she’d crash. They were great water-cooler bait.

It was a risk for Season 12 to not have a reality star-type for fans to rail against, although Wendy Williams and Kendra Wilkinson briefly looked like they may pick up the baton. Instead, Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy stole the season with their amusing oops-a-daisy drama and hilarious rehearsal routines.

Season 13, on the other hand, had Chaz Bono. He seemed to be the “controversial” contestant in the vein of Kate and Bristol — someone to polarize fans in a love/hate dynamic. It worked, but while Chaz rallied his fan base for six weeks, some conservative viewers just decided they didn’t even want to watch for the rubber-necking factor. Comments weren’t just ugly, they were vicious. It’s possible some viewers made good on their threats to boycott the show because Chaz was on there. (Of course, that doesn’t explain why the ratings were low even after Chaz left.)

The season started with a dancing whimper
The Season 13 premiere nabbed 19 million viewers, which isn’t great but not so bad. But the dancing was just OK. Not exactly gangbusters, with the top scores being 22s and a lot of scores much lower than that, but without any OMG trainwrecks. It was kind of a “meh” night.

Credit: ABC Photo: Week 10 Results Show: Mixed

Two and a Half Men was on
The new Two and a Half Men with Ashton Kutcher ended up stealing a lot of DWTS’ thunder when they premiered on the same night. DWTS Season 13 got 19 million viewers. Ashton got 28 million. Yeah, Men dropped a lot in subsequent weeks but DWTS always needs a strong start to hook people. DWTS is about a journey and it already naturally loses some viewers mid-season, only to have them return for the big finale.

It was too predictable
But why bother even returning for the finale when it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen? From Week 1 it looked like J.R. was a frontrunner to win, it was just a matter of who would get there with him. By Week 2 it was clear it would be J.R. vs. Ricki Lake and there was no point watching the tennis ball go back and forth — just tune in for the finale to see who would join them. It turned out to be Rob Kardashian, which was nice considering his dancing had improved, but Rob wasn’t exactly a showstopper to watch.

It’s possible Season 13 would’ve had even worse ratings without the Kardashian fan base, but Rob in the finals meant Hope and Maks were shut out and Team MakSolo’s rabid fan base just checked out of the final performance show entirely, only returning to see the couple dance again on the last episode.

Too many themes?
The themes are fun — and they give the mid-season episodes a focus — but they can be restricting and hamper some of the dances, leading to low scores and frustrated fans. The most Memorable Year Week was great because it helped viewers get to know the stars and allowed them to pretty much do what they wanted. They got to choose the songs and have a measure of control. But most of the time you never know what song you’re going to get and how it is going to work (or not work) with your dance style and the week’s theme. Like a Tango to the Ghostbusters theme. That was just a recipe for disaster, even for a talented guy like J.R. It’s fun to have themes, but maybe not every week. Give the couples some leeway to show the audience their strengths before boxing them into a specific genre.

Why do you think Season 13 had such low ratings? Sound off in the comments.

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