If you thought head judge Len Goodman's tongue-lashing of the celebrity dancers tonight was scripted, think again. When he told them that they weren't rehearsing long or hard enough, it was his own opinion, something that had been building up in his mind since the performances last week. And it came from a place of genuine disappointment and frustration. "I just had a bad feeling," said Goodman right after the show. "So I looked at the DVD of last season, the fourth week. And then I looked at the DVD of this group three weeks in. And there was no comparison. There was no Emmitt Smith. There was no Joey Lawrence. No Mario Lopez. And I couldn't [figure] out why — because these people all have talent."
So before the show this week, Goodman went to the Dancing with the Stars producers and asked to see the records of just how many hours each pair was putting into rehearsals. "They gave me the exact number of hours," said Goodman, "and I didn't mention this on the air, but some people had done only six hours of rehearsal for the whole week. And then they wonder why they're not getting better scores."
Goodman says his goal was to set a fire under the wayward competitors. "There's a sense that everyone's really good, but not brilliant," says executive producer Conrad Green. "Len calls it 'the polish.' Mario last season was training 21 hours a week and he started out being good. But that's what made those routines so incredible."
So Goodman knows it's possible to generate more electricity on the dance floor — and he's done being polite about it. "I was a little frightened of him tonight," says judge Carrie Ann Inaba, only half kidding. "When Len found out the rehearsal hours, he felt insulted. We were all a little insulted. I was a little shocked, too. It was a bummer to hear that some of the celebrities weren't taking it seriously."
Inaba heard the statistics on rehearsal hours for the first time tonight, during the show, and from Goodman. "I was disappointed," she says, "because here we are, judging them and thinking that they're giving it their all, and then you find out that maybe they're not."
Inaba believes that NBA great Clyde Drexler needs to try harder. And she thinks that Laila Ali is "playing it safe. It's like she's muted. I don't know it she's afraid of something, or angry, or uncertain. I'd like to see her come back with confidence, because she's got it. I can't believe Laila Ali doesn't have confidence." Watching Leeza Gibbons, said Inaba, "was tough. She's sophisticated and elegant and she didn't use it in her dance tonight. You have to use every asset that you have. You can't throw it away."
Dance pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who is partners with boxing-champ Ali, thinks the judges are being unfair. "I think they had some kind of agenda tonight," he says. "And it got diluted towards the end of the show. Because by the end some people didn't get criticized as much as we did and the others who went in the first half." Ali herself says she couldn't be trying any harder. "Maks and I put in quality time," she says. "We don't play around. But there's only so much you can take in in a day."
Still, Ali admits that her star didn't shine as brightly tonight as it could have. "I did feel that I didn't have the attitude or the energy that I normally have," she says. "And I think it was due to exhaustion."
Dance pro Tony Dovolani (who partners Gibbons) was frustrated by the judges' comments, too. "I think it's unfair to say that the celebrities are not committed," says Dovolani. "They are trying their best. Leeza's giving me everything. I think we're all gonna chip in and get Len a new bed. Because apparently, he didn't sleep well."
Gibbons agrees. "I think Len needs a little nap and a time-out. And if he thinks this was my worst dance ever, I beg to disagree. He needs to look at my fox-trot again."
So the head judge may find that his criticisms are not having the effect he had hoped for. And he'd better watch his back around John Ratzenberger's 91-year-old mother, Bertha Sewack. Sewack was sitting front row center. When she heard the harsh critique of her son, she said, "I felt like taking my cane and walking over and just shaking it at him," she says. Then she laughs. "But I didn't do it."
ABC's Dancing with the Stars airs Monday at 8 pm/ET, and Tuesday at 9 (results show).