Dancing with the Stars's 29th season is less than three weeks away, and, as you might've noticed, it's arriving while the nation is still struggling to get COVID-19 under control. Production on most scripted television shows is still either on hiatus or only just beginning to crawl back to life, but for the juggernaut that is DWTS, the show is absolutely going on. With the pro dancers in place and the celebrity cast stretching their limbs for an intense few weeks, the only thing left to do is actually get the show on the road. But how, exactly, when COVID-19 remains a real threat? New host and executive producer Tyra Banks explained in a call with journalists Thursday that some of the precautions the show is taking.
"There will be no studio audience," she said, describing one of the most significant changes to the show she said are outlined in a thick binder of rules and protocols. "Judges will be far away from each other. There are masks, fumigation...we have three married couples and they will be going through very strong protocols. They will not even be living with each other." Pro dancers and celebs will be in their own "pods," she said -- not an official term from DWTS production but her own terminology to describe the ways groups will be separated. Dancers, she said, will not wear masks.
While COVID-19 precautions are exhaustive and intense, those make up just one portion of the many considerations going into the season. "We're really trying to figure out how to incorporate Len [Goodman] in the season," she said, addressing rumors that Derek Hough would be replacing him. That's not the intention, she said, but the team is in fact bringing Hough back. "He is doing something that's going to be revealed. He's Dancing with the Stars royalty."
Banks, who isn't just the host of Season 29 but also an executive producer, said that while she has a great deal of input on the show, she did not come to Dancing with the Stars "with a sledgehammer" attempting to make huge changes. "This is an American icon of a showcase. [Executive producer] Andrew Llinares does the heavy lifting, the showrunning. I have come in to add pixie dust." She did not have a say in casting, she said. Banks said she sees her role as one to "spice it up," and bring young audiences as well as new viewers to an already well-oiled machine.
She's aware, though, that some fans were less than pleased her joining DWTS meant the departure of Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews, and she is aware that her hiring -- coming after months of protests over racial injustice -- may have looked to some like an attempt to diversify the program. Bergeron himself refuted that claim in an Instagram post.
When asked about her thoughts on those perceptions by TV Guide, Banks wanted to set the record straight. "I'll be one hundred percent transparent. The decision to bring me on the show was before any of the unrest. The announcement came after that. ABC was not reacting to [Black Lives Matter protests.] I knew exactly what people would think, but that's not what it was." Change of any kind, she said, can be hard for people to accept, but at this stage in her career, she is used to overcoming negative perceptions and challenges.
"I've created TV shows, I've hosted Emmy-winning shows. I'm capable. I've always loved having the wind in my face. It doesn't bother me," she said. "My job is to endear America to this show they know and love. I'm going to bring excitement and oomph. I'm confident we're going to show people a good time."
Dancing with the Stars Season 29 premieres on Monday, Sept. 14 at 8/7c on ABC.