Photo credit: ABC.
"Dancing With the Stars" successfully pulled off mounting a complex season in the middle of a pandemic, but what the producers didn't succeed in doing was quieting the fans about the absence of longtime host Tom Bergeron. Every social media post during season 29 elicited negative comments about new host Tyra Banks and questions why Bergeron couldn't return to the show. Well, it looks like we have an answer — not from ABC, but Tom himself.
The answer will probably break the hearts of viewers, but it's clear he's reconciled with the fact that the network has moved in a completely different direction with the show. The Emmy Award winner told TV Guide recently, "The train has left the station." That doesn't mean Bergeron doesn't miss the show. He certainly misses "the friendships" he made "with people who were on camera and behind the camera," but it's hard not to feel like the exit was a punch in the gut since he "thought 'Dancing' would be where [he would] end [his] hosting tenure."
Bergeron shockingly announced on July 13 that he would not be returning to season 29 of "Dancing With the Stars" after receiving a phone call from ABC. He tweeted that it was "an incredible 15-year run" and that the series was "the most unexpected gift of my career." His co-host Erin Andrews met a similar fate and the duo continued to joke about their unexpected termination from the show.
Yet ABC knew months before that they were bringing Banks in as the new host and executive producer to work alongside veteran executive producer Andrew Llinares. It's baffling why they chose to let Bergeron promote the upcoming season throughout most of the winter and spring — it doesn't seem like the best way to treat America's favorite TV host. Even when the accusations about Banks being a reactionary hire to the Black Lives Matter movement were hurled at ABC, the former supermodel clarified that "the decision to bring me on was before any unrest that our country was going through." The network kept the secret to themselves that "Dancing With the Stars' was moving in a new direction.
But it seems that the decision to let Bergeron go is rooted in issues that go back several seasons. He revealed on "The Stuttering John Podcast" in October that the show "started changing early in 2018" when there were "staff changes" as well as "philosophical changes about how to do the show." It's no secret that Llinares was hired by ABC in 2018 to executive produce season 26, the four-week "Athletes"-themed season, with then executive producer Ashley Edens.
Longtime fans know there was a marked shift in tone from season 26 moving forward — viewers often talk about the good-old-days as much as Bergeron, who commented that the early years that had "a different vibe, a different feel." That new tone was evident in season 27 with winner Bobby Bones — who still polarizes the viewing audience — he easily won the popular vote, but didn't win over the dance purists' hearts. However, season 28 and the casting scandal is what might have been the final nail in the coffin for Bergeron.
When former Trump White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was announced as a cast member, Bergeron felt it was important to express his opinion about keeping politics out of the ballroom. He tweeted out a long message about why he thought it was crucial to keep "Dancing With the Stars" a neutral zone — believing that the show is a "joyful respite from our exhausting political climate" and should be "free of divisive bookings from any party affiliations." He's not wrong in that assessment since the last four years have been exhausting for everyone in the U.S., no matter who you voted for. The producers didn't need to take that fight to the ballroom floor.
Llinares didn't see it that way. He had a show to produce and he wanted to shake up the show by casting someone who would be a consistent newsmaker — and yes, generate a few tweets from President Trump. As Bergeron wrote, he and producers decided to "agree to disagree" because "ultimately it’s their call," but the tone was set for the season. The host and the contestant rarely interacted throughout Spicer's eight-week run on the show — and that might have set the stage for Bergeron's dismissal over the summer.
That one action was most likely the catalyst for hiring Banks for season 29. Llinares hasn't commented directly on the specific reasons why both Bergeron and Andrews were released from their contracts, but we can read between the lines on this situation. He simply told the press during the fall ABC virtual press tour that "it was about evolution" and that a changing of the guard with Banks, and the addition of judge Derek Hough, made the show more "current."
Photo credit: ABC.
Llinares maintains it's about "hold[ing] on to the heart of the show," yet critics have been shouting all season long on social media that Bergeron was the heart of the show. The bottom line is that ratings held steady in season 29 even with the dramatic changes, so ABC and the producers are not listening — they've put their muscle behind Banks as the face of the show.
With season 30 of "Dancing With the Stars" looking like a pretty sure bet for next fall, thanks to pro Cheryl Burke's inside scoop, viewers now need to wrap their brain around the fact that Bergeron is gone for good and Banks is here to stay. Banks' challenge next year will be to find a comfortable hosting rhythm sooner, and maybe realize that one outfit per show is OK with all of us.
The show won't ever be the same without Bergeron at the helm, but we can certainly appreciate the years "Dancing With the Stars" had him guiding the ship. Bergeron told TV Guide that he "appreciate[s]" all of the kind words fans have shared with him, but he promises that he doesn't "hold it against anybody if they [watch]" the show without him. Some fans may never return because he is gone, but "Dancing With the Stars" has moved on — and Bergeron has moved beyond the show.