Tom Bergeron wanted ‘DWTS’ to avoid politics. Then Sean Spicer was cast
“Dancing With the Stars” host Tom Bergeron has waded into the political debate surrounding ABC’s casting of former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on the long-running dance competition.
The stalwart Bergeron, ever the voice of reason in the show’s cavalcade of sequins, feathers and spray tans, voiced his disappointment Wednesday over “DWTS” producers’ decision to cast a divisive figure in the series, which he had hoped would remain nonpartisan. He did not address Spicer by name, but he didn’t really have to.
“It is the prerogative of the producers, in partnership with the network, to make whatever decisions they feel are in the best long-term interests of the franchise,” the Emmy winner said in a statement released on Twitter in the wake of the show’s Season 28 casting announcement. “We can agree to disagree, as we do now, but ultimately it’s their call. I’ll leave it to them to answer any further questions about those decisions.”
Addressing his followers and the show’s viewers, Bergeron said he met with the show’s new executive producer a few months ago to offer suggestions for Season 28. He said his chief concern was that the series, in returning from its “unprecedented” yearlong hiatus, would be “a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free of inevitably divisive bookings from ANY party affiliations.”
He thought he and the producer were in agreement but said the show ultimately went in “a different direction.”
That direction involves Wednesday’s announcement that Spicer, President Trump’s former spokesman who famously inflated the president’s 2017 inauguration numbers and inspired multiple “Saturday Night Live” sketches, would be joining the new season – this after years of speculation (and denials) that he would. The increasingly sidelined press secretary resigned abruptly in July 2017, went on to publish a book about this time in the White House and founded a strategic consulting firm.
“For me, as host, I always gaze into the camera’s lens and imagine you on the other side, looking for a two-hour escape from whatever life hassles you’ve been wrestling with. That’s a connection, and a responsibility, which I take very seriously, even if I occasionally season it with dad jokes,” Bergeron said in his statement.
“Hopefully, when co-host Erin Andrews and I look into those lenses again on September 16, you’ll be on the other side looking back, able to enjoy the charismatic pro dancers, the unpredictable judges and the kitschy charm that has defined ‘DWTS’ since 2005,” he concluded.
The 16-time Emmy Award-winning show, though years removed from its heyday, has long been considered a place for veteran celebrities to burnish their dulling stars, young ones to find a new claim to fame, or disgraced folks to seek redemption for some transgression.
The upbeat show has over the years enlisted partisan not-quite-celebrities: among them, former Rep. Tom DeLay (Season 9), Bristol Palin (Seasons 11 and 15), Energy Secretary Rick Perry (Season 23) and Tripp Johnston Palin (Juniors). Bristol Palin’s third-place finish, despite her average dance skills and the regular presence of former vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin, brought with it hostility over the role of fans’ votes in the judging process.
Representatives for ABC, BBC Studios and the show itself did not immediately respond to The Times’ request for comments on Bergeron’s statement and the Spicer casting.
The host also appeared on the Sirius XM show “EWive” on Wednesday, fielding further questions about the casting decision and how it could lead to viewers once again voting along partisan lines in a largely apolitical show.
“I honestly have no idea,” Bergeron said of Spicer’s voting reception. “My preference – it’s not my call, other people book the show – would have been to avoid any political lightning rods. Dancing, at its best, is an oasis away from all the divisiveness and all of the stuff we’re all wrestling with right now. That was a call they made. My job as host, to the best of my abilities, is to be Switzerland for those two hours a week. For the other 166 hours a week, I’m pretty clear where I stand politically.”
This season, Spicer will be competing against country music star Lauren Alaina, supermodel Christie Brinkley, pop star Ally Brooke, “Queer Eye” star Karamo Brown, “The Bachelorette” star Hannah Brown, “The Office” alum Kate Flannery, NFL hall of famer Ray Lewis, Nickelodeon veteran Kel Mitchell, former NBA star Lamar Odom, actor James Van Der Beek and the Supremes singer Mary Wilson.