Dancing With the Stars is cha-cha'ing its way over to Disney+, the first ever live show on the streaming platform.
But what does that mean for the long-standing dance competition show that has been a core part of the ABC line-up since it premiered in 2005? Well, for starters, no commercials — which, while great for audiences, presents a new set of challenges for the production team.
"We don't have ad breaks anymore," executive producer Conrad Green tells EW. "And the knock-on effect is that we don't have all that lovely time to reset things. It makes the production super live. It means basically we've got to clear the stage in between the times when people chat and play the packages, so it's going to be a very intense choreography behind the scenes to get folks in and out, and clean the floor and those elements."
Season 31 of the reality series announced its cast last week, which includes lots of reality TV stars, including Drag Race's Shangela, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, Real Housewives' Teresa Giudice, and The Bachelorette's Gabby Windey. There's also actors like Selma Blair, Daniel Durant, Cheryl Ladd, and Wayne Brady — and even the show's first TikTok star in Charli D'Amelio.
The season also sees the return of fan-favorite pro dancers Mark Ballas and Louis van Amstel. Tyra Banks is set to return as host, with Alfonso Ribeiro joining her for the move. Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli, and Derek Hough will all return to the judging table.
That's a lot of new choreography for the production team to learn, so ahead of the show's Sept. 19 premiere on its new home, we caught up with executive producer Conrad Green to get the details on what to expect — and who might be a dark horse for the Mirror Ball trophy.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You're moving to Disney+. Is that going to allow you to showcase longer dance numbers?
CONRAD GREEN: There's a limit to how long you can make the dances simply because it's really hard to learn and do them. They're physically very taxing, and these are amateurs doing it. Also, if you watch it and it goes on for too long, they tend to lose a bit of form and focus. There's a sweet spot between about a minute and a minute and a half where they're really entertaining. You see the beginning, middle and end. But as the show goes on, and there are fewer competitors in it, the dances can get a bit longer.
But, in the past, you always had to hit exactly two hours for the show. You don't have to anymore now that we're on the streamer. There's not another show immediately following us. It's not like there's dead air if we're a little bit under. The show can run at a slightly more natural pace. The first show is going to be busy. It's going to be two hours absolutely packed full of people and stories and amazing performances. When we get into the later shows, we can let it breathe a little bit more, and we can bring back some of the elements that people have really liked, like group dances, team dances, or a dance marathon. Things like that, which are fun ways of seeing how the cast all get to know each other and work with each other and compete in different ways. But the biggest, biggest change as well is Alfonso coming in as a co-host.
Yes, you've had two hosts before, but why was this the right moment to bring him on board and why was he the one for you?
It was a couple of reasons. One is we needed a way of getting the people off the floor so that we can clear the floor because we don't have ad breaks. That coincided with bringing back the skybox, which is the area where all of our celebrities can hang out and talk to Alfonso. I really missed that because him being able to talk to people going into their clubhouse and and being able to relax and decompress and knock about with each other, that's the spirit of the show. No one's going to be better at that than Alfonso. Not only is he a former champion of the show, but he loves the show and is passionate about it. He knows the dancers really well. He really knows what he's talking about. He empathizes with the celebrities, what they're going through, and he's also a really good old friend of Tyra's. They worked together on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. They have lots of chemistry. They like working together; they always have. It felt like a natural fit. He'll bring a warmth and human interest to it. He'll help us get to know the celebrities because we've got that extra bit of time hearing from them.
The move to Disney+ also means the show will air live on both coasts for the first time. Do you anticipate that propelling an influx in voters?
I don't know quite what to expect. People used to be able to vote on the West Coast when we would do the reveal the next day. But when it dropped down to one reveal that night, people on the West Coast didn't vote. I'm very glad that it is now fully inclusive. It's live live live across the whole country. You can tune in at five o'clock in LA, you can tune in at 8 o'clock in New York. People in Canada are able to vote now as well. It's a much broader base. And I think it will help audiences feel engaged with the show.
This year is maybe your biggest assembly of reality stars ever. Why was that a space you decided you wanted to go so big on this time and bring in the bulk of your contestants from?
With Charli and Heidi [D'Amelio], for me, it was the mother-daughter thing. Also the fact that she's huge on a platform that didn't even exist when the show first aired. Charli is the biggest star on TikTok, which, for a certain generation, is more watched than television. It's always about trying to keep up with changes in media and changes in celebrity and who the audience is engaging with. People from reality shows like Teresa, like Gabby, they have really good personalities. There's a reason they've become stars of those shows. They're engaging. They're open. They're open for the challenge of something like this. And they're good at talking about their experiences and reacting honestly to the experience while they're doing it. That's really what you want to watch on the show. People want to see an honest insight into what it's like for people trying to go through these challenges.
Last year, you had JoJo Siwa who had a huge YouTube presence. Now, you have a TikTok star with Charli. What has prompted adding social media stars to the cast?
Where do people spend their time now? A younger audience, particularly, a lot of them don't watch traditional television programs. You want to be able to reach those people. You want to be able to reflect this huge array of what stardom is in the 21st century. Someone who's a YouTube star or in Charli's case, a Tiktok star, and now has a reality show as well, they bring potentially a big audience in. You've got to keep up with the change in taste of the audience. You've got to know where the audience goes. It's one of the reasons why moving to Disney+ is a move for the future. Increasingly, people are choosing to watch television on streamers rather than on networks. It doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with networks, but this seems to be where the audiences are heading. So, it's flattering and exciting to be the first of the big live, established shows to be coming over to a streamer.
You have two contestants this year who might have some more unique challenges. You have Selma Blair with her MS diagnosis, and Daniel Durant who is deaf. Are there certain adjustments you have to make in the competition for them?
We always talk to them and try to understand their condition. We asked people to talk to their doctors and make sure that they're confident and comfortable going ahead with it. But by and large the competition is the competition. Sometimes we allow people a little bit extra time. We let Daniel start a couple of days before everyone else because his partner needs to learn to communicate and dance with someone who can't hear. That's quite a challenge for a choreographer, so we gave them a couple of extra days. But beyond that, what we like to do is show what people can achieve within the confines of this show. And we've been constantly surprised. It's been wonderful to watch in the past when people with disabilities have been able to overcome them and produce some of the most memorable routines we've ever seen. Selma's story and Daniel's story, they are amazing in the mix. You want to see how this is going to work out, and are full of admiration for people willing to try against such difficult challenges.
You announced on GMA that you will have a Michael Bublé night on October 24, with Michael joining as a guest judge, which honestly feels like the most perfect fit for the show. How long have you been trying to make this happen?
Michael performed on the show years ago, and he's a brilliant guy. He's actually a really good friend of Derek's, and it's probably their friendship that has finally got him to come and give us a whole night of his music and judge along. That's going to be a really special night. We've got some other great themed nights coming up, which we'll be announcing along the way. In week 2 of the show, we're going to be doing an Elvis night. We've got full access to all of the Elvis catalogue.
Will fan favorites like Halloween and Disney night return?
They will actually be doing a Disney+ night, not Disney, which is great because it means you've got this incredible catalog to look at. Everything from Marvel to Disney Pixar, all of the animated films, all of their live-action films. There's such a range. We're really looking forward to broadening out what was Disney night to Disney+ night and having a fantastic eclectic night to enjoy.
You mentioned that you're going to have the skybox again. COVID is still a reality for all of us, but how much is it going to impact the show? Might we start to see a studio audience again anytime soon?
Yes, we are getting an audience back. We're trying to balance the safety of COVID while trying to also reflect the fact that people are starting to live their lives differently than they were. Everyone needs to be fully vaccinated and everyone will be tested before they come in. It won't be quite as densely packed as it was in the past, but there will be an audience there. That's really important because the backdrop that matters most in the show is smiling faces and seeing people reacting viscerally to the dance in front of them. It should feel like a special event, and it felt a little bit empty over the COVID years. The team did such an amazing job putting on a great production in that time, but you always miss the people. So, we're trying to strike a balance between being as safe as we can possibly be, while at the same time having an audience back in the room to recreate that energy.
On the pro side of things, you've got two audience favorites returning. How did that come about? Did they just both have openings in their schedule? Or what was the process there?
We're always talking with people who've been on the show, and just checking in. When you get a celebrity, you think, "Who will be the best partner?" For the show to progress, you're always wanting to bring in new faces and new dancers and fresh blood, but you also want to be able to keep a lot of the classics who've been there over the years and achieved so much. Louis is great to have back. He's almost the granddaddy of the group in a way because he was there for show one. Cheryl [Ladd] really likes him; they get on so well. Those are a natural match.
Charli has got a ton of potential. She's got a lot of dance background. So, we wanted to make sure that whoever worked with her was really pushing her and being imaginative and I can't think of a dancer who is more imaginative than Mark. I reached out to him and said, "Are you interested?" and he thought about it and said, "Yeah, let's go for it." He loves the show. He's obviously got his music and acting and all the other things he's been doing. But he just thought, "Why not? Let's give it a go." I can already see the competition in his eyes. You can take the boy out the ballroom, but you can't take the ballroom out of the boy.
You probably don't want to weigh in on who you think could be likely to take the trophy. But can you say if there's a dark horse — someone you think is really going to surprise people and deliver something we won't expect?
There's some people you expect to be good because of things they've done in their careers. There's some people you have no idea. I had no idea that Jordin Sparks is a very good dancer. There's a number of people who have showed quite a lot of promise. I've given up trying to predict this show a long time ago because whenever I would think I know how it's gonna turn out, I'm always, always wrong. Until you start seeing the votes coming in and seeing people actually performing, then you get an idea for it. But it's a show that writes itself along with the audience. And that's the fun of it.
Make sure to check out EW's Fall TV Preview cover story — as well as all of our 2022 Fall TV Preview content, releasing over 22 days through Sept. 29.
Dancing With the Stars is cha-cha'ing its way over to Disney+, the first ever live show on the streaming platform.