'DWTS' Is Trying Really Hard to Get Us to Watch Season 17 -- And It Just Might Work

The dance competition has a new format, new set and new cast of famous faces. Will you watch?

On Monday, ABC's sparkly ratings extravaganza Dancing with the Stars (8 p.m. ET) returns for Season 17, and baby, you'd hardly recognize her. That's right -- the shorter, lighter Season 17 has shed some of its bulk (the entire second night, in fact), undergone a physical makeover (rearranging the contestants' and judges' seating areas), and energized the "star" roster with more recognizable names than ever before. 

Fact is, this kitschy dance competition has lost viewers in each of the past five seasons. "Obviously, it's always very challenging in ratings terms when shows mature," executive producer Conrad Green told TVGuide.com. "I think the key is, you do need to keep innovating. You do need to keep trying new things."  

So like Kirstie Alley after four weeks with Maksim Chmerkovskiy's intense choreography, the show, too, is shedding extra weight. Starting in Week 2, Monday nights will now end with an eliminated contestant. No more waiting until Tuesday to learn who received the least votes while viewers grow weary watching the pro dancers repeat their same signature moves. 

Even the set itself will look different. The contestants skybox is gone (they'll be seated down with the judges). Watch for an added makeup room and rehearsal room for interviews both before and after the performances. 

But the big news is the eclectic and interesting Season 17 roster, a "someone for everyone" group that has sparked lots of interest ahead of the premiere -- even  from new and unexpected corners.

Take Bill Nye the Science Guy, who has a significant number of Twitter followers who aren't exactly implicit DWTS watchers. But why wouldn't they follow his journey on the competition? Here's a recent tweet from the daily diary he's been keeping on his Twitter account:


Various contestants have been quick to point out the flashpoints that make them interesting to viewers. In interviews, Leah Remini has referred to her high-profile break with the Church of Scientology as a motivator. "Considering what I have been through this year, I am really at a vulnerable place in my life," she told USA Today. "But I want to come from a place of strength. That's why I want to do it. I want to come out and celebrate my life and that I am doing something scary and new." 

Valerie Harper, who is 74 and battling brain cancer, has kept a bouyant attitude in the face of her obstacles. "When [producers] asked, I thought, 'Why would I say no?'" she tells People of her decision to join the show. "When life asks you to dance, you just have to dance." Amazingly, Harper's brain scans have been showing less evidence of cancer. "I feel much better," she says.

Unsurprisingly, Snooki has demonstrated her characteristic uber-confidence in her dance skills as she talks to the press about the competition. And she's made some of her usual silly comments that entertain and delight our nation of Jersey Shore lovers. For example: "I really want a butt," she told ABC News of the show's rigorous practices. "I don't have a butt. I have like a pancake butt, so I'd like a little bump." 

Amber Riley has promoted her participation in terms of representing plus-sized women. Here's a recent tweet:



And Christina Milian, whose latest gig was working as a social media correspondent for The Voice, has kept her Twitter feed alive with daily DWTS briefings, too. Her latest:


Over on Elizabeth Berkley's Twitter feed, high-profile pals like Jennifer Beals have put in plugs for her:

The producers and stars have certainly put in the time and energy to attract viewers to Season 17. Will it work? We'll find out tonight! 

Jennifer Graham Kizer is an Atlanta-based writer who covers pop culture and watches too much TV. Luckily, iVillage gives her an excuse to watch even more. Follow her on Google+.

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