Dancing with the Stars Boss on Recapturing the Magic (and Viewers): "It's Back to Basics"
Dancing With the Stars
Last fall, a longtime goal of Dancing with the Stars producers came into fruition: an all-stars season.
Thirteen alums returned, but viewers fled. The onetime ratings juggernaut delivered less-than-glittery numbers — partially due to The Voice's first fall outing siphoning eyeballs. But executive producer Conrad Green also believes it's because fans want to see dancing with new stars, not all-stars.
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"Perhaps that was a miscalculation on our part. Maybe we underestimated how important it was to have a new story rather than a continuation of one," Green tells TVGuide.com. "We thought seeing old favorites come back would be really appealing, and I think it was to core fans of the show. All-Stars did deliver in terms of being able to try some new dances out, new challenges and really pushing the level of competition. I think what it lacked was the shock of the new.
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"So it's quite nice this season to go back to fresh faces, people completely unfamiliar with dance and get back to that kind of innocence," Green continues. "It's back to basics almost. There's definitely a vibrancy and energy and excitement that comes with feeling like we're back on our usual course."
The 12 stars along for the Season 16 ride include a double dose of Olympic champions (Aly Raisman and Dorothy Hamill), comedians (Andy Dick and D.L. Hughley), a country star (Wynonna Judd), an American Idol alum-turned-country star (Kellie Pickler), a Real Housewife (Lisa Vanderpump), a Bachelor (Sean Lowe) and the show's youngest contestant ever, 16-year-old Shake It Up star Zendaya Coleman. The show had pursued Dick, Judd and Pickler for years before Dancing casting director Deena Katz "finally wore them down," Green jokes. "It all starts with the cast and I think we've got a great one. It's one of our youngest ever. I think half of them are around the age of 25. That mixed with our older stars from their fields is a great cocktail."
Adding even more fresh blood are three new pros, So You Think You Can Dance's Lindsay Arnold, troupe member Sharna Burgess and Gleb Savchenko, who competed on the Australian version of Dancing last year. It's the most pros the show's added since Season 13 and is as much about building the show's long-term future as it is about welcoming new personalities and choreography. "New blood is so important," Green says. "The people who are your favorites now are only your favorites because they were introduced years ago. As always, that doesn't mean our old pros won't be considered in the future, but we want to bring people through and we've been looking at Lindsay, Gleb and Sharna for a while. We want them to be your favorites years from now. They all bring something unique to the table."
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In the same vein, the show will incorporate two new styles this season, contemporary, which will be introduced the first week, and jazz — the first additions since Season 9. "You have to keep trying new things to keep it fresh," Green says. "That's one of the consequences of being on for almost eight years. We're going to hit our 300th episode this season ... on Week 10, the semifinals. So if you've watched from the beginning, you've seen a hell of a lot of cha-chas and foxtrots!" Contemporary and jazz were featured last season — but as part of opponent's picks and odd, and perhaps misguided, theme combos. Remember Big Top Jazz? The Caveman Hustle? Knight Rider Bhangra? Many fans — and even Burgess — loathed the kooky pairings, which served as another lesson learned from All-Stars.
"The more outlandish stuff probably won't be back," Green says. "The picking [dances] for each other will be. I don't think there's an issue with that. ... Some of the things we did last season was because it was All-Stars and some of those people had done the whole show, so we had to keep them guessing. I don't think we'll be pushing as far and wide with the challenges now because I don't think we need to. A lot of the joy is seeing if someone can do a paso."
The Dancing staple, theme weeks, will be back as usual, with some new ones. Week 3 will be Prom Night, inspired by the stars' own proms and for which fans will be able to vote to crown the Prom King and Queen. "Maybe the celebrities will do some version of their prom outfits," Green says with a laugh. "There will probably be some campy music. We're looking at some other special performance nights. One will probably be Latin. We'll do The Best Year of Your Life Week. It's small tweaks like that that are vital. Nothing radical."
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So will something old and something new be the steps for success — or at least reinvigoration? Dancing will air opposite The Voice again, which has cast changes of its own with new coaches Shakira and Usher. Though Dancing's numbers in the coveted adults 18-to-49 demographic have eroded against The Voice, it still has the edge in viewership, and Green just wants that trend to continue.
"I just hope we hold our own. That's all I want. If we grow, obviously that's great, but I'd just like to keep the total audience over The Voice," he says. "I wish them the best. It's a tough environment right now. You can look at almost every show and they're down. Idol is down and it's not up against a show that's similar to itself. Even Celebrity Apprentice came out and did a lot lower. I think that's just the market maturing and viewers sliding away from network TV. I hope this cast is engaging and appealing. It's a nice place to park yourself on a Monday night. My hope is that people will come back and enjoy it."
Dancing with the Stars premieres Monday at 8/7c on ABC.