Last year, Dancing with the Stars reverted back to a one-night format for its 17th season, and as the reality competition heads into its 18th outing, even more big changes are on the way.
"When you're a show reaching its 18th season and its ninth year, I think you have to keep changing things up every so often just to make sure that the experience doesn't become too familiar," executive producer Conrad Green tells TVGuide.com. "It's spring, so it's time for a spring cleaning."
In addition to the shakeups that have already been announced — Erin Andrews replacing co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet, longtime band leader Harold Wheeler and his musicians being shown the door — a new voting system will be implemented this season, and for the first time ever, viewers will have a chance to play puppet master and switch up the pairings.
Check out nine big changes coming to Dancing with the Stars this season:
1. Switcheroos!: At some point this season, the stars and pros will switch partners for at least one week, and the new pairings will be determined by viewer votes. It's an untested twist to the show, and Green admits that even the producers don't know how it will play out. "It's always a question that superfans of the show have, which is, how much is the celebrity good because they're with that partner, or how much is it because they're good themselves?" Green explains. "It's a very good test of the stars, how good they actually are at dancing. And also, it's a real test for our pro dancers." Host Tom Bergeron hints at some of the interesting dynamics that could come up as a result. "If I was the pro and suddenly I had a new partner, and then I knew that I was going to go back to my old partner later, I wonder if I'd choreograph to the best of my ability while I was with the other person," Bergeron says. "Which is not to cast dispersions on anybody's professionalism. I'm just thinking diabolical strategy."
2. New voting: With the elimination of the results show, the DWTS producers are still trying to determine the best way to reveal voting results every week. Last season, the show combined viewer votes from the previous week with the judges' scores from the current week, which resulted in some "anomalous results," Green admits. This year, the elimination will be based on both the judges' scores and viewer votes from the current week — meaning that the pair who will be eliminated will have already been determined before they dance the following week, but they won't know it. "Effectively, we will know who's going home Tuesday morning," Green says. "So what will happen is, every couple will compete the following week, but one of those couples will be the one who is carrying the black mark of elimination with them, as it were. And there's really not much they can do." For fans who think that seems a bit harsh, Green admits: "None of these systems are ideal ... but I do think at least this way the public gets the final say and they get to vote in response to the judges, rather than the judges having effectively the final say."
3. Erin Andrews: No one was more surprised than Burke-Charvet when the longtime co-host was dropped from the DWTS lineup earlier this year. But Green says the decision to bring in sports commentator Andrews (who competed on the show in Season 10) was "largely about just trying to keep the show fresh and trying to bring different voices into the ballroom." Both he and Bergeron cited her interview with Richard Sherman after the NFC championship game as a major factor in the hiring decision. "I think Erin has a unique take on [the show], because not only has she been a competitor on it, but also her day job, a sideline reporter in the NFL, it means she's very good at understanding what it is to be in a competition, and making live moments work with people who are in competition, and doing interviews," Green says.
4. A new band: Also dismissed ahead of Season 18 were longtime band leader Wheeler and his band. Replacing him is Ray Chew, who's previously worked on American Idol and The Singing Bee. "The decision to bring on Ray was partly a reflection of the kind of music we've been doing more recently, trying to get a band that is well able to cover those more modern songs," Green says. "We wanted to try and get the balance back a bit more towards as much live music as possible." For his part, Chew tells TVGuide.com that the band has been working on arrangements of everything from traditional rumbas to EDM tracks.
5. New (and old!) pros: Returning to the ballroom after a two-season hiatus is pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who's paired with Olympic ice dancer Meryl Davis (and will be competing against his brother Val, who's paired with Danica McKellar). "It's great having Maks back," Green says. "I've always said, Maks is a massive part of our show. And he wanted to come back. ... That's the most important thing for me. I don't want people taking part in the show unless they're really into it and committed to it." And making his debut as a pro will be former troupe member Henry Byalikov, who's paired with Diana Nyad.
6. New theme nights: Among the theme nights Green has teased are Party Anthems night, American Icons night and possibly a Disney music night. ("As soon as our celebrities and dancers heard that, everyone got very excited and was talking about being princesses and stuff like this," Green says.) The show will also likely revisit Latin night and Most Memorable Year of My Life night.
7. Lots of guest judges: Though no names have been released yet, Green says there will likely be a guest judge on the panel nearly every week beginning in April — in addition to the permanent panel of Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli. "They're going to be a mixture of people from the world of music, big stars from ABC, ex-dancers ... a real range of people, all of whom have an opinion and have a knowledge and can bring something to the judging," Green says.
8. Healthy rivalries: The competition isn't even underway yet, but there's already some rivalries brewing behind the scenes, according to Green. In addition to brothers (Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy) and Olympic partners (Charlie White and Meryl Davis) facing off, '90s TV stars Candace Cameron-Bure and Danica McKellar also have a little bit of history. "[Candace] and Danica knew each other a lot when they were younger," Green dishes. "I think Danica once took [Candace's] boyfriend without realizing it, when they were both teenagers. So there's history there, and I think there's a fair amount of healthy competition between them."
9. A new ballroom look: Longtime viewers will also notice that the ballroom looks a little different this year. The proscenium arch will be gone and a much bigger video screen will be featured at the back of the stage, while a smaller stage near the band will be used for more intimate performances. The skybox will also be making a comeback. "We've re-jiggered the ballroom quite a lot," Green says. "It's going to feel like a much bigger, deeper ballroom." Some changes will also be made to the warm-up room as well.
Are you looking forward to this season of Dancing with the Stars? What do you think of the changes, and which couple will you be rooting for? Weigh in below!
Dancing with the Stars kicks off Season 18 Monday at 8/7c on ABC.