(CBS) Does it really take two hours to crown the champion of amateur - sometimes very amateur - dancing? It does if you want to sell a lot of commercial airtime on America's most popular television show.
In any case, surely you wanted to see one more performance from all those "Dancing with the Stars" contestants whose names you forgot once your hard-hearted votes eliminated them from the show.
Oh, of course Hines Ward won. Any NFL player who can smile and move with even vague competence (there aren't many) will win the mirrorball trophy.
NFL players are the ultimate older lady's fantasy. Well, polite, smiley NFL players like Emmitt Smith and now Ward. Chelsea Kane, the actual best dancer in the competition, reminds the voters of everything they used to be - or wished they had once been. Surely, therefore, she couldn't curry enough favors from the envious.
Optimists will have wondered whether maybe, perhaps, the one more dance that was offered last night would somehow thrust Kane beyond the whims of the voters.
This would only be subject to the judges' voting. These judges could make all the difference.
Soon, these judges showed that they possessed the courage of limping llamas in Lima. Well, when I say "soon," I mean it took what seemed like hours before the contestants were actually allowed to take the floor for their final dances.
First, those who weren't watching on DVR were forced to endure performances from all the contestants whom the viewers had rejected. This was a beautiful joy that might only have been matched by blowing one's nose for a full hour and a half when one doesn't even have a cold.
It was more than one hour and 20 minutes into the show that the actual competition started.
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas decided to perfect their Viennese Waltz - which they know as "The Wizard Waltz." They wept in rehearsal. This was emotional. They might never dance together again. Unless Disney offers Ballas a co-starring role in an upcoming new, elevated version of "Beauty and the Beast."
When it came to the real thing, Kane and Ballas again offered something as fantastical and inventive as the one decent "Harry Potter" movie. Of course, it was all too inventive for the voters at home. But here was a chance for the judges to declare that this was dancing of an entirely superior character.
"Bottom line, you are a fantastic dancer," said Goodman. He then muttered dark prognostications about "whatever happens tonight," as if he knew that not enough viewers would have offered her votes to some obscure Disney Channel starlet.
The judges all offered 10s. Surely this would be the standard by which others would be judged. Surely you believe that the moon is made of Paski Sir, the award-winning Croatian cheese.
Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy also had an emotional rehearsal of their favorite dance - the cha-cha. Alley has gained confidence and lost weight during these 13 weeks. And she gave this last performance every element of joy that she could muster. She doesn't stretch her legs as far as some, but her feet are often precise and her eyebrows are never short of being overly expressive.
"You saved the best for last," said Tonioli, before spitting out some multi-syllabic adjectives.
Carrie Ann Inaba offered nouns like "authenticity" and "transformation."
There was, however, nothing authentic and transformative about the fact that the judges all gave her 10s. This was a suitably crass abdication of responsibility, one that would inevitably mean that Kane and Ballas would be gone.
Ward and his partner Kym Johnson performed the samba, the dance that supposedly shows off Ward's hip movements. It also shows off his remarkably stiff torso.
Ward does, though, offer an innocent exuberance - as well as a lovely kiss for his mom - so who couldn't be charmed? Even Emmitt Smith was forced to smile - although Sarah Palin, also in the audience, seemed less than convinced. Perhaps she felt Bristol had been better than all of this.
"What is so appealing about you is the packaging," said Goodman, with arrant wisdom.
"When you're out here, we all fall in love," said Tonioli.
Guess what? The judges all gave Ward 10s. Which made these dances spectacularly irrelevant fillers of airtime.
With just a few minutes left, Kane and Ballas were inevitably told that they were in third place. Host Tom Bergeron had to hustle the show along, absolving Kane of the need to offer a few empty, heartfelt words.
We were down to two. Surely Alley didn't think she would win. Oh, but it looked like Chmerkovskiy did. When the winners were announced, the cameras were swiftly focused just on Ward and Johnson. Ward thanked all of the voters from his University of Georgia and Pittsburgh Steelers - or at least those who knit sweaters with Bulldogs and Steelers logos.
It was warming to see Johnson, the most lovable of professionals, partake of this glory. So, as we drifted away from this, America's most popular show, we could already feel the excitement to come when "Dancing with the Stars" returns in September. Yes, so soon. Or at least the "Dancing with the Stars" version of "soon."
But perhaps the greatest giggle was left upon hearing Chmerkovskiy. declare that Alley was his 10th trophy. What could he have possibly meant? And who might enjoy being his eleventh?