Educational? Now you're on thin ice

As 'Dancing on Ice' starts, the nation may kid itself that reality TV shows teach new skills, but there's much less to them than meets the eye
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Readers of high-minded newspapers may claim ignorance. Those who pore over literary prizes and art auctions may shrug their shoulders. Dinner party guests may still pretend to be discussing property prices. But we all know the truth: everyone loves a TV talent show.

Gathering round the television on a weekend evening to roar approval or cluck with dismay over the judges' comments has become a national pastime. And when ITV's latest offering, Dancing on Ice, begins tonight at 7pm, a ritual will return that has had just the briefest of lulls, since Strictly Come Dancing ended just before Christmas.

The glacial version of the BBC's talent juggernaut follows a familiar format – soap stars and sports heroes, singers and models struggle to grasp complicated dance moves while waspish judges mark their performance. And 10 million viewers sit entranced.

Both major TV channels profess that their shows encourage the public to get involved, and dance studios and ice rinks report an upturn in business as each programme broadcasts. ITV's The X Factor claims to encourage Britain to sing by allowing "civilians" to perform in public. The success of that show's 2006 winner Leona Lewis is a helpful reminder, but in effect it's just a fig leaf for cheap, studio-based prime-time filler.

Before Dancing on Ice even begins, the show has stoked itself a controversy to get the nation talking. Contestant Jessica Taylor, a former reality show pop group contestant, is fighting claims that she has an unfair advantage, having spent four weeks training for BBC's Strictly Ice Dancing in 2004, in which she finished second.

ITV has moved to quell the anger, saying Taylor has not skated since that show ended, but bookies have still made her second favourite to win, with odds of 9-2. The bookies' favourite is X Factor 2006 runner-up Ray Quinn.

Celebrity skaters this year range from the hard-nosed investigative reporter Donal MacIntyre to the inevitable faded soap stars, including Todd Carty, formerly Mark Fowler in EastEnders. "This year's celebrities are more determined than ever, and have their sights set on mastering some daring moves," a Dancing on Ice spokeswoman said.

No self-respecting Brit can afford not to know the form, so the IoS offers you a handy guide to this year's contestants. Plump up those cushions.

Blades of glory? We rate the contestants

1. Graeme Le Saux 40; Played football for Chelsea and England.

Skate rating: 8/10

2. Ellery Hanley 47; Former Wigan rugby league player, now head coach of Doncaster.

Skate rating: 7/10

3. Coleen Nolan 43; Nolan Sister and panellist on the ITV talk show 'Loose Women'.

Skate rating: 8/10

4. Todd Carty 45; Played Mark Fowler in 'EastEnders'.

Skate rating: 4/10

5. Melinda Messenger 37; Former glamour model and now TV presenter.

Skate rating 5/10

6. Michael Underwood 33; Children's TV presenter and GMTV correspondent.

Skate rating: 5/10

7. Jessica Taylor 28; Liberty X singer, wife of Kevin Pietersen.

Skate rating: 9/10

8. Ray Quinn 20; Runner-up in the 2006 series of 'The X Factor'.

Skate rating: 6/10

9. Donal MacIntyre 42; Investigative journalist.

Skate rating: 2/10

10. Zoe Salmon 28; 'Blue Peter' presenter.

Skate rating: 7/10

11. Gemma Bissix 25; Roles in 'EastEnders' and 'Hollyoaks'.

Skate rating: 7/10

12. Jeremy Edwards 37; Appeared in 'Hollyoaks' and 'Holby City'.

Skate rating: 6/10

13. Roxanne Pallett 26; Playing Jo Sugden in 'Emmerdale'.

Skate rating: 6/10