Dancing with the Stars made a dramatic move from Big Three network TV home, ABC, to a three-year-old streaming service, Disney+.
For this new season 31, judge Derek Hough told TV Insider “It feels like a relaunch of the show. In some ways, it feels like a brand-new show.”
Eh, no it doesn’t. What it does feel like, though, is a return to the pre-COVID, pre-Tyra Banks era—even though Tyra Banks and the new Great Gatsby-ish set and its lens flares remain. The live studio audience is back after a COVID audience, and still primed to boo even the slightest critique.
At the same time, Dancing with the Stars has taken a few more small steps in the franchise’s gradual evolution, which has managed to not upend the show in any fundamental way, but also still make some changes.
The premiere of Dancing with the Stars 31 felt to me like the same show it was during its previous 30 seasons.
It was especially indistinguishable from the “fresh take” that arrived after Tom Bergeron was fired and Tyra Banks swept in. Despite a new lens flaring Great Gatsby set and lack of a co-host, the show itself didn’t really change, and it was actually kind of embarrassing that the show wanted credit for catching up.
This year, behind the scenes, the show, um, “parted ways” with new-ish EP Andrew Llinares, and brought back long-time executive producer Conrad Green.
Green brought back elements that were recently discarded, a co-host and balcony interviews, though he did not go so far as to bring Tom Bergeron back. The balcony interviews and co-host Alfonso Ribeiro are there to help fill extra time, Green told Variety, because they have a lot of extra time to fill.
The major change to DWTS on Disney+ was the lack of commercials, meaning we had a full 120 minutes instead of 86 minutes plus commercials.
That is a lot of Dancing with the Stars—an extra 34 minutes—yet by its midway point the show was somehow already running long, so Alfonso skipped Shangela’s post dance interview, until someone realized that was a terrible idea and he interviewed her later.
Without those breaks, it moved, and I appreciated not having to fast-forward every few minutes, while Disney+ made it possible to both pause and rewind the live feed, which is especially nice, because I was not sure how I was going to go to the bathroom or copy down funny quotes.
Dancing with the Stars had the usual minor live TV hiccups. At one point, Tyra vamped about next week’s theme, Elvis, long after they already cut to Heidi D’Amelio up in Alfonso’s box, and then they cut back to Tyra as she kept going and finally said, “Alfonso, you ready?”
The cast is the usual mix of reality TV stars and people I don’t know by name or appearance, which I guess is probably how other people not tuned in to reality TV might respond to seeing Shangela or Teresa Giudice.
There was some exceptional and moving dancing, even for week one: Shangela, Wayne Brady, and Selma Blair all did very well, as did this season’s ringer, former competitive dancer and “TikTok star Charlie D’Amelio.
When Shangela introduced herself, and met her pro partner Gleb Savchenko, she was in drag. But then she told us that it takes hours to get into makeup, so “I will not be rehearsing in drag.” Shangela also explained that, out of drag, he uses he/him pronouns.
And that dance came after Bruno Tonioli made what I will assume is Disney+’s first reference to a hand job. “I like a wraparound, don’t you?” he asked during one of his verbal tornados. “Oh, we know, Bruno,” Derek said.
I also imagine the “infrequent coarse language” in the show’s TV-PG rating is entirely for Bruno’s sake. And the set designer has not yet gotten him a seat belt, as he continues to leap out of his seat, which I’m guessing is where Jimmy Fallon learned to play Password,
Yes, the judges are the same as always. I laughed when Tyra asked Len Goodman a question and he started by saying, “I cannot remember any season…”
As always, there was also some stinky dancing, like from Sex and the City star Jason Lewis and Vinny Guadagnino, eek. Vinny was safe based on viewer votes, while Teresa Giudice and Jason Lewis were in the bottom two, and the judges sent her to pris—saved her, sorry. (Voting took place online and via text, and the big change is that Canadians—and Tyra’s large Canadian family, apparently—can now vote.)
During the dances, there was subtle set design, like Teresa flipping a table, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s kid dancing to “Pump It” in front of a set of workout equipment and yoga balls.
The big question I have no is one that will probably never be fully answered: How many people followed Dancing with the Stars to Disney+? How many subscribed just for this? Or how many even watched? Following Netflix’s lead, streaming services don’t have externally verified data that they release, and when they do release data, it’s not exactly trustworthy.
I suppose if Disney+ cancels the show after the two seasons it’s ordered, that’ll be a pretty clear sign of how well it did. But for now, Dancing with the Stars fans can rest comforted that the Disney+ version will deliver very much the same entertainment that DWTS always has.