Ahead of Dancing With the Stars‘ two-night finale (Monday at 8 p.m. ET, Tuesday at 9 on ABC), host and eternal gem of the ballroom Tom Bergeron spoke to EW about the different feel of season 17, missing Len, welcoming back Maks, and the merits of the Glitter Pit vs. the Celebriquarium (may it rest in peace). You know, important stuff. Keep reading!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How have you been coping with the new once-a-week format?
TOM BERGERON: It’s been an adjustment. I’ve really enjoyed elements of it and am still a bit uncomfortable with others. The two hours definitely go faster to me. Bruno and I still aren’t happy with the desk being on the other side of the room. Just the Feng Shui of it feels wrong. Other than that, the changes that they made once the network had taken away our Tuesday show were smart given the limitations that they had.
It’s so hectic on Mondays now. Do you miss the Tuesday results show?
I honestly prefer having a results show. I think sometimes when I’m trying to explain how the voting works right now, I feel like I’m doing a verbal yoga pose.
Ha! And maybe it’s not going over so well in class…
No, it’s not. I love the clean nature of ‘You vote on Monday, we’ll tell you on Tuesday.’ We had all sort of variety acts [in the results shows], and the pros got a chance to do bigger production numbers that meant something to them. So I prefer that model. But I also prefer being on the air. If we have to be on one night only, this is a really good way to do it.
There were ratings reasons behind [the format change], certainly. There was also the thought that if you took away the Tuesday show — and this is certainly what I trumpeted when it was first announced — interestingly, the research shows that there wasn’t as much crossover as you’d imagine between the Monday audience and the Tuesday audience. So the thought was, all right, let’s move the Tuesday audience into the Monday show and see if we can bolster up the ratings. But that doesn’t appear to have happened. What’s interesting is, if you watch the half-hour breakdown of ratings for previous seasons, it always built so that the highest point was the last half hour. Now, in the last half hour, we have the elimination. And the numbers have dipped a bit in that last hour. So it seems to me the Tuesday crowd didn’t come over, and the Monday crowd said “Hey! We don’t want an elimination! Screw that!”
One thing I do like about the new format is it gives you more opportunities to candidly interview the dancers right after they get scores.
It is fun, it really is. I think it exploits a real rapport I have with them — certainly with the pros, whom I’ve worked with in some cases for 16 seasons. And in other cases, with some of the stars whom I may have known previously or with whom I just have a great time during the day when the blocking rehearsals are going on. So it’s nice, to show a little bit about the relationship we already have.
How much did you miss your buddy Len when he stayed over at the British show three times this season?
Oh, I knew he’d be coming back. If I thought he wasn’t coming back then I’d miss him with all my heart. But I missed him with about one ventricle.
In another startling shift this season, the Celebriquarium has been replaced by what in the season 17 premiere you called the Sexy Bus Stop.
Yeah! I kind of abandoned that after the first week. I’ve settled into The Glitter Pit.
I like Glitter Pit a lot. Do you miss the Celebriquarium?
I’m of two minds on it. I think calling it the Celebriquarium made it a bit more special. And I thought it was a cooler visual than them just sitting in the Glitter Pit.
And it was a much better concept for you to lovingly mock from the floor.
Yes! It took away one of my targets!
It’s bizarre to see them sitting there in the front row like commoners.
And not even in a comfortable seat! I’ve gone over there occasionally to do those little interview things, and it’s not even well-designed.
It just looks like a thin strip of velvet over a folding chair.
That’s what it felt like on my ass!
Speaking of your ass, since Maks is gone, have you missed having your own… assets toyed with?
No. I honestly think that had long ago run its course and had turned into a display of obsessive-compulsive behavior by Maks.
Leah Remini seemed to step up into that Tom-toying role the most this season.
Leah liked to kind of wrap her arm around my neck and kind of fiddle with my ear while she got her judging.
So you’d prefer an ear-fiddle from Leah to a butt pat from Maks?
Because of the source, or the target area?
I’d much prefer to have women draped on me.
I mean, technically, it’s all workplace harassment.
Hey! No. It’s only harassment if the person being fondled says so.
Just another Monday at the office!
Which pro sweats the hardest?
You know, I don’t know. They’re at a bit of a disadvantage because this season they do this big production number before doing their routines. So typically the pro who had to do the first dance with their partner right after doing the opening production number — that’s the sweatiest pro.
Does anyone just sweat sparkles at this point because they’ve assimilated so seamlessly into the atmosphere of Planet Mirrorballus?
Now you’re sounding like you’ve been in California too long.
Not possible! How fun was it for you to have those three guest judges — Julianne, Cher, and Maks?
It’s definitely a special thing, and we made it into such in each of the three cases. With Julianne and especially Maks coming back, it was great to play up the angle of him being on the same side of the desk as people who had tangled up with him a bit.
I loved when he basically paraphrased Carrie Ann’s comment from seconds earlier and was completely horrified. He could hear her, right?
It was funny and a bit ironic. It was interesting, because I hadn’t seen Maks for awhile. And in the interim, I’d read some quotes from him that were a bit disparaging about the show, so I wasn’t really into that. So when he showed up, I thought, ‘Well, which Maks?’ But I was very pleased to see he was at his most charming.
What’s your pick: Bearded Maks or Clean-Shaven Maks? I prefer Bearded.
Doesn’t matter to me. He could come out looking like ZZ Top, I don’t care.
Ooh, he should do that!
He’d be like a Tchaikovsky Duck Dynasty.
I love that. Final question. You’ve been standing right in the middle of this crazy train for 17 seasons now, which is freaking insane.
How well do you understand ballroom dance?
Um, certainly better than I did in 2005. But there are styles of ballroom that I couldn’t tell you the difference. For example, one of the things we did this season was the Switch Up Dance Challenge — the music and dance style changed throughout the number. I was doing my usual low-toned commentary–
Tom’s Golf Announcer Voice!
Exactly, and I had several people comment to me, “Wow, you were able to talk about the different styles of dance so quickly!” Here’s what was really going on. Sharna [Burgess, a pro] was sitting right next to me. She had a piece of paper and a Sharpie — a Sharna Sharpie — and she’d write down some of the dances. Some of them I knew for sure, and it’s true that I can tell when it’s a rumba or tango or paso doble, those more obvious ones. But some of these had subtler changes, so Sharna was jotting them down and I was just reading what she was saying.
What is Sharna’s handwriting like?
Very legible! She did a great job, it was like we’d done it many times before.
I thought they’d have set you up with that dance info well before the show!
No, because the order we used in the live show wasn’t what we did in the dress rehearsal. So it was all on the fly.
Looking forward to Monday night?
I always love the freestyle, so I’m looking forward to those. But the number of musical acts we have coming up Monday and Tuesday — we’ve got Kellie Pickler, TLC, Lady Antebellum, Colbie Caillat, Enrique Iglesias… and Ylvis! What does the fox say?
Can we expect a reprise of that ‘Fox’-y Team Freestyle?
I’d say that’s a safe bet.
Anything else you want to say about season 17?
Just make sure you watch the two-night finale… liiiiiiiive!