Tom Bergeron and Melanie Brown, <EM>Dancing with the Stars</EM> Tom Bergeron and Melanie Brown, Dancing with the Stars

We haven't seen him do the rumba or the paso doble, but Dancing with the Stars host Tom Bergeron is faster on his feet than any of the celebrity contestants on the ABC hit competition/reality program. Whether he's trading barbs with judges Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli, chatting with cohost Samantha Harris (and her fill-in Drew Lachey), consoling a celebrity who maybe missed a step (or, heaven forbid, did a lift!), or helping a fainting Marie Osmond up to her feet, Bergeron's comedic quips and cool style earn him a perfect "30" every time. TV Guide chatted with the host about his demanding Dancing duties. How close were you to the recent fires that plagued Los Angeles?
Bergeron: I was close enough to see fire engines, smoke, flying planes and all that. Also, I put all the [important] papers together in one place to make a fast exit if needed. Happily, it didn't come close to that. That's about the only drama that hasn't hit Dancing this season.
Bergeron: Yeah, no kidding! This season seems to have more energy to it. Those Tuesday-night results shows are tough because everyone remaining is vulnerable. [This interview took place before last week's shocker of Sabrina Ryan being voted off.]
Bergeron: You're right. We [the hosts, producers and judges] have all talked about that. We're all so connected to the show now. We've got the rhythm down. You can have all of that, but you need the celebrities and a level of talent. Eliminations that happen from here on in are really going to hurt. Have you seen the show evolve from trying to get celebrities to appear to now, where they're banging the door down to be cast?
Bergeron: You're not trying to get the biggest names necessarily. It's the mix of personalities more than the marquee value that makes the show work. This season has the most diverse group yet, with a sports-team owner/billionaire/entrepreneur [Mark Cuban] to an Indy 500 race-car driver [Helio Castroneves] to staples of the show from years past — someone from a teen-oriented show [Sabrina Ryan] as well as film [Jane Seymour] and TV stars [Cameron Mathison, Jennie Garth]. The pairings have great chemistry. I'd venture that some of them would be dating if they weren't already committed. Maks [Chmerkovskiy] and Mel [Brown] should have their own sitcom. Jennie [Garth] and Derek [Hough] look more and more like each other with each passing week.
Bergeron: [Laughs] Isn't that funny? You're right. Do you have any say in who's paired with whom? What's your take on the pairings?
Bergeron: I don't, but I think they're great. [Our chief casting person] is prone to pangs of self-doubt and I'm always telling her that these are great people! Watch it all come together. Every season she worries and every season she goes, "Oh, OK. I guess it's working." How much do you thrive on the whole live element of the show?
Bergeron: Apart from my fondness for the people involved, that's the most exciting part for me. The fact that it's live is the nourishment for me. Your humor's on the mark. One night, a clip couldn't be replayed and you said, "Oh, sure, but Jennie Garth's fall can be shown 40 times."
Bergeron: [Laughs] The producers trust me to know that my main goal is to make the show better. The live element is what makes all things possible. It just doesn't happen with other shows [that are taped in advance], like America's Funniest Home Videos. Drew Lachey, who filled in for Samantha, seemed appreciative of everything he learned from you. What are your thoughts on him?
Bergeron: Having Drew onboard was a master stroke on a lot of levels. He and I are buddies. We're from different generations so I don't see him a lot socially, but every time we're together in a work setting there's a very easy chemistry between us. I'm very fond of him. I think he's a great natural talent. I think you could watch in those three weeks how much he grew. By Week 3 we were giving each other a full ration of guff. I loved that. I love that he called me "Father Time" from backstage and my first impulse was to go back there and try to get into his face. Speaking of which, are we seeing next season's celebrity dancers in this year's audience? We've seen Florence Henderson, Tori Spelling, Ken Howard and many of Cameron's friends from the soap-opera world.
Bergeron: If you go back and look at tapes of previous seasons, you can see Mario Lopez and Jane Seymour in the audiences. I know Jane was on the fence about doing the show. I think it's a fair guess that some of the faces that you see in the audience are either in negotiations or hope to be. You won the 2000 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show host (tying with Bob Barker of The Price Is Right). Regis Philbin had a lot of buzz about him winning for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. You said in your acceptance speech, "I just came for the dinner." It was a hilarious icebreaker.
Bergeron: For me, I've always had a sense of humor about myself. One of the hardest things to do is to be comfortable in your own skin. Your initial impulse in this business — or in any business — could be to put on a personality that's going to make yourself marketable or acceptable. The moment you go down that road, you're screwed. Ultimately you have to sink or swim based on the strengths or weaknesses of your own personality and your own comfort with that. I knew if I won that year the most important thing was to acknowledge that none of us expected it to happen. I also said, "Don't worry, Regis. [Disney's then chairman Michael] Eisner is getting you the Statue of Liberty." I had some other lines in my back pocket ready to go. I just never thought I'd do the speech for anyone else but my wife on the ride home! Do you have a wish list for celebrity contestants on Dancing?
Bergeron: I don't. I'm surprised so often how these casts work together. I put my trust in the people who do it. There are people I'd like to hang out with socially, but in terms of casting the show, I'm more than happy to find out along with everyone else who is in the lineup each season. How nerve-racking was Marie's fainting?
Bergeron: I immediately snapped into "Dad" mode. Being on television was the last thing on my mind. Therefore, it was quite easy to just get us off the air by tossing to a commercial and then focus on the real priority, which was Marie. It was like one of my kids falling down — the world shuts down because you're hyperfocused on that. Jerry Springer left a message for me the next day complimenting my calm and cool, but the truth of the matter is, I couldn't imagine doing anything but what I did.

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