updated 03/18/2014 AT 8:05 AM ET
•originally published 03/18/2014 AT 8:15 AM ET
How has NeNe Leakes not already done Dancing with the Stars?
That was my first thought as ABC’s long-running ballroom competition began its 18th season Monday – although that’s precisely the sort of thought the producers probably don’t welcome as they tweak and freshen an entertaining hit that has softened in the ratings.
The most newsworthy, even controversial change was hiring Erin Andrews, Fox Sports personality and former contestant from season 10, as cohost.
The addition of Andrews would be less interesting if prior cohost Brooke Burke-Charvet hadn’t been let go last month with no official reason or apparent fault. According to cohost Tom Bergeron, Burke-Charvet has been a good sport about the whole thing, but her initial response was an attention-getting Tweet: “weird day .Shocking pre-season elimination #DWTS ME.”
A well-timed Tweet can be like a stream of boiling water poured on a tightly organized community of ants.
Burke-Charvet, 42, always struck me as pretty, likable and pleasant, in the manner of a princess having the kingdom over for a garden party, and also nonthreatening, as perhaps she should have been. It would be unseemly and self-defeating to try to upstage Bergeron, who is flippant, charming and very much in command.
You couldn’t say Andrews, 35, staged a coup, but she wasted no time establishing herself on Monday.
Andrews talks with the flat, unhesitant delivery and slanginess of an experienced announcer, and she casually plants herself on the floor with a kind of no-nonsense strength. She is angular and even willowy, but her center of gravity appears to be unshakable. If you covered the Super Bowl, wouldn’t you be the same way? How would you survive otherwise?
This may explain why she was sometimes overemphatic with a Jane Lynch bluntness. After James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd’s number, she asked them about their history: “Everybody’s kind of wanting to know – what’s going on between you two? Not to get all Dancing with the Stars Weekly on you!” A perfectly fluffy and inconsequential question, but she sounded as if she expected them each to produce two forms of ID.
But this was her first night – she was doing her thing, she struck a fresh note, and she struck it firmly. And after an hour or so, she was at home.