Palin's success raises tempers, boosts ratings

NEW YORK No, not Sarah -- though he hopes she'll be the next president. He means daughter Bristol, on "Dancing with the Stars."

The 20-year-old Palin's improbable run to next week's finals -- championed by websites like DuJan's -- has led to such an uproar that conspiracy theories are floating, some fans are insisting they'll never watch again, and a Wisconsin man actually shot up his television, apparently in disgust over Palin's dancing.

"There's been more angst over this than over the 2000 election," quips media industry analyst Shari Anne Brill, only slightly kidding.

The real winner? ABC, of course. The always-popular "Dancing with the Stars" is enjoying a ratings boost, undoubtedly due to the novel casting.

For those whose television tastes tend toward shows less awash in sequins, mirrors, feathers and fishnets, a brief recap: Many were surprised when the shy Bristol, once the country's best-known teen mom, became a contestant on the hit show, where judges' scores are combined with public votes to determine the winners.

But no matter: Bristol, paired with professional partner Mark Ballas, put on her game face and started, well, learning to dance. Her effort was clear; so was her lack of skill and experience.

Flash forward to this week's results show, with the four remaining couples vying for three spots in the finals. First "Dirty Dancing" star Jennifer Grey was declared safe, then Disney Channel's Kyle Massey.

It came down to Palin and singer Brandy, who had wowed the judges with her sultry tango, earning a perfect score. When Palin was declared safe, Brandy was speechless, and the jaw of Grey's partner, Derek Hough, quite literally dropped.

The next morning, "Dancing" fan Kimberly Fishman arrived at her job at a northern California bank. She was furious at the result, and so were co-workers. "People were saying it's the tea party voting, that all of Alaska voted," says Fishman, 42. "It's all politics."

Fishman, who identifies herself as a liberal, has resolved not to watch next week. "I'm done," she says. "No one could say Bristol is the better dancer." And yet, she adds, she herself didn't vote.

That's a key point, media analyst Brill says. "A lot of people out there are watching but not voting."

So who does vote? Obviously, people who really, really care. Like DuJan, the conservative activist. A former Democrat, he turned into a major Sarah Palin fan after Hillary Rodham Clinton lost the Democratic nomination in 2008.

"Are you planning on hosting a Team Bristol Monday Night Dancing Watch party?" reads a post on his website. "You ... can actually vote together and send Bristol over the top ... while sending Leftist heads into meltdown."

In an interview, DuJan said the public support for Palin was a sign of real affection and a desire to reward her after her ordeal under the harsh media spotlight -- both as an unmarried pregnant teen, and now with the snide comments about her dancing.

"Think of all the things they've said about Bristol," he said. "This would never be allowed to happen to Chelsea Clinton, or the Gore daughters, or God forbid the Obama daughters. Support for her is real."

And besides, "I think she's a marvelous dancer. She's the only one whose performances have improved every single week."

DuJan defends a tactic that has gotten some critics angry: The use of fake e-mail addresses and multiple phone numbers to let people exceed their vote limit.

People can vote by phone, text or online -- with the first two methods possible for 30 minutes after the show and online voting until 11 a.m. the next day.

At this point in the season, there's a limit of five votes per phone number and e-mail address. While people must register their e-mail address with, if one uses fake addresses, the possibilities are endless.

Which is great, says DuJan, who has sat for hours into the night, voting.

"If people want to have pajama-jammy-jams all night, having pillow fights and roasting marshmallows and voting, then why not?" he says. "Isn't the winner supposed to be the one who has the most passion behind them? Well, this is passion."

On his website, DuJan recently put it this way: "Start calling the moment the show starts ... After that, use someone else's phone to call the maximum times. Then ... randomly knock on neighbors' doors and use their phones to call, call, call, and then call some more."

In an interview with the Associated Press, "Dancing" executive producer Conrad Green acknowledged that using fake e-mails was possible, but he said security checks are in place to detect abnormal activity.

Still, he doubted many people were doing it -- and said that, anyway, fans of any dancer could do the same. "I don't think there's any reason to believe our voting system is unfair," Green said after Tuesday's show. "If someone really wants to sign up for a million e-mail addresses ... well, so be it. But they could be doing that for Jennifer, they could be doing that for Kyle, they could be doing that for anyone."

He added that Bristol has earned the right to be where she is.

"This girl, she's got this sort of everywoman quality," Green says. "She's come from no background in performance of any sort ... and she's technically pretty good."

Television analyst Steve Sternberg says people shouldn't be so surprised at the results.

"If you only want the most talented and best to be picked, don't allow the general public to vote," Sternberg says. "I think this controversy is actually helping ratings."

Indeed. According to ABC, "Dancing," now in its 11th season, is up substantially over last year, drawing an additional 3.3 million viewers (20.9 million vs. 17.6 million). It's up 18 percent among adults 18-49. According to Nielsen, 65 percent of the overall audience is viewers over 50.

Certainly next week's finale -- with Palin alive and kicking, so to speak -- should be a huge ratings draw.

One person who won't be watching is Mickey Meader, 63, who works the night shift at a shipyard in Lewiston, Maine. Despite his schedule, he has followed the controversy and caught up with video clips here and there.

"Honestly, this is just people who don't like Sarah Palin, and all this stuff gets carried over into the show," Meader says. "If you look at websites on the right, you'd think she's the greatest dancer since sliced bread. If you look at the left-leaning sites, she couldn't dance if she was on a pedestal that was spinning by itself."

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