“Dancing With the Stars” fans were not alone in wondering the deeper meaning after Disney rumbled the ballroom floor by announcing in April that the reality competition was moving from its ABC home of 30 seasons to the Disney+ streaming service.
Six-time Mirrorball champion Derek Hough, the show’s biggest star and judge, pondered the same question.
“My initial reaction after hearing the news was, ‘Oh!’ and then, ‘So what does this mean?’ That really was the question,” Hough says. “And then honestly, after that, it became excitement.”
The ballroom smiles will be fixed as the pro dancers take the floor with their celebrity partners when “DWTS” kicks off its 31st season Monday night on Disney+ (8 EDT/ 5 PDT), the first live series to premiere on a streaming service.
But the looming question remains whether the seismic streaming move is a glorious new beginning or the music starting for the final “DWTS” tango – the glitzy show that premiered in 2005 and once featured spray tans and sparkling ratings on two prime-time ABC weeknights.
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The historic move – Disney+ has signed on for at least two seasons – is being scrutinized by fans and streaming competitors alike, says Brian Hughes, managing director of audience intelligence and strategy at ad firm Magna. Everyone is watching to see if the show’s older fans make the move to a streaming service, and if the younger viewers more familiar with Disney+ will tune in.
“It’s very much in wait-and-see mode to see how this pans out. This is a live thing, not a Marvel movie,” Hughes says. “What we’re seeing is the future of TV, with everyone using apps instead of TV. But will people actually tune in now? It’s very much TBD.”
Conrad Green, the original “DWTS” executive producer who left in 2014, has returned for the landmark transition and exudes all the confidence of Maks Chmerkovskiy ripping his shirt off during a steamy samba.
“This is the beginning of a new beginning,” says Green of the new home on Disney+, which will bring “DWTS” to about 44.5 million homes in the U.S. and Canada, compared with the 120 million U.S. TV households with (free) access to ABC.
Even with the smaller viewer pool, Green believes “DWTS” has the future on its side.
“Fewer and fewer people are watching network TV, which is still an enormously important puzzle piece,” he says. “But you have to go with the audience, and right now that’s streaming, which is the future of entertainment. “
The “DWTS” crew has reason for rosy optimism. The show has seen ratings fatigue in recent years, despite shake-up moves such as replacing longtime host Tom Bergeron with Tyra Banks in 2020.
Hough says the show’s fate is better than an alternative: cancellation.
“The truth of the matter realistically, after season 30, there was a moment (when) it seemed like that might have been it,” he says. “Streaming is really a new lease on life for the show. And that’s pretty incredible.” (Last fall the series averaged 6.4 million viewers on ABC.)
Green denies that the new crop of celebrities, many of them reality TV stars. is designed to woo a younger, streamer-friendly audience. He points out that young influencers have always been part of the show, including Kim Kardashian in 2008’s Season 7 (she’s still considered one of the worst dancers in “DWTS” history).
The celebrity dancers include the mother-daughter TikTok stars Heidi and Charli D’Amelio; drag performer Shangela; “Charlie’s Angel” Cheryl Ladd; “Cruel Intentions” actress Selma Blair, who has openly battled multiple sclerosis; “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice; “Jersey Shore” star Vinny Guadagnino; former “Bachelorette” Gabby Windey; and “American Idol” alum Jordin Sparks.
Canadians can watch and vote each week for the first time, but the show won’t stream elsewhere because of licensing agreements. (BBC owns the show, which is based on the U.K.’s “Strictly Come Dancing.”)