Is “Dancing with the Stars” (7 p.m., ABC) a family show or a sleazy show? It tries to be both, and that’s why I find it so frequently loud, annoying and depressing. Neither a prude nor a censor, I have no real problem with its Vegas-style glitter, plunging necklines and scripted “spontaneous” innuendo. But its attempt to do so while at the same time maintaining its squeaky Disney veneer leaves me queasy.
Years ago, when I was in book publishing, I recall considering a proposal by an author who theorized that ever since we banished the freak show tent from the circus and the state fair midway, the entire culture had become a sideshow. We’ve sanitized Times Square and other “red light” districts only to see pornography available in every home. We’re sold stripper poles as exercise equipment. What we’re left with, he argued in a book we never published, is a society neither truly prurient nor terribly virtuous. We’re saddled with a rather tawdry combination of the two, all the more boring for the botched compromise.
I think of that unpublished manuscript often while watching “Dancing with the Stars.” Last week, Tom Bergeron praised “Jersey Shore” while the just-jettisoned “The Situation” vibrated his chest muscles like some nervous exhibitionist child. There he trembled, a vacuous distillation of a thousand tiresome ethnic stereotypes, while “Dancing”’s plastic host pretended to find him fascinating. I felt at that moment that the show had reached a real nadir of fawning insincerity and contrived stupidity. But I’m sure it will top itself, as it always does.
• The four-part series “Virgin Galactic: Will it Fly?” (9 p.m., National Geographic) documents the attempt to create the first commercial manned spaceship. “Virgin” profiles space entrepreneur Richard Branson and his team of engineers, including Burt Rutan, who won the X Prize contest with his privately built SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnightOne.
• “Hardcover Mysteries” (8 p.m., Investigation Discovery) looks into the true crime that inspired author Lisa Scottoline.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Jacksonville hosts Tennessee on “Monday Night Football” (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
• Jennifer Grey (“Dancing with the Stars”) guest stars on “House” (7 p.m., Fox).
• The New York Yankees host the Texas Rangers in game 3 of the American League Championship Series (7 p.m., TBS).
• Contagion spreads on “The Event” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Internal Affairs puts pressure on Lightman on “Lie to Me” (8 p.m., Fox).
• “American Experience” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) repeats “We Shall Remain,” a history of the country’s discovery and settlement from the Native American perspective.
• Murder on embassy row on “Hawaii Five-O” (9 p.m., CBS).