Dance pros Mark Ballas, a two-time mirrorball champion, and Louis van Amstel aren’t the only two familiar faces returning to Dancing With the Stars for the show’s 31st season on Monday, September 12. Conrad Green, the show’s original executive producer, who helmed the show from its inception until Season 17 (in 2013), is back as showrunner. It’s an exciting time to be guiding the show. The dance competition reality series will be seen exclusively on Disney+. One of the biggest changes to the format is that there will be no commercials.
TV Insider chatted with Green about his decision to come back to DWTS, the return of the Skybox (the safe haven for dance pros and stars), the addition of past mirror ball champion Alfonso Ribeiro as co-host, and much more. Read on to get a preview of the new season.
How did your return to the show come about?
Conrad Green: I just got a call from ABC. I think when they were considering moving over to Disney+, they wanted a fresh look on the show and I think they also looked back at when I was at the show and they wanted to get that feel to it back somewhat.
As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…”
(Laughs) Well, the show has always evolved without me. The quality of the production is quite amazing. I’m inheriting a very good team. It’s a real challenge doing something for Disney+ and producing the first big entertainment show to go live on a streamer. It’s really fun making live TV. You don’t get a lot of opportunity to do that. There’s a whole special buzz that comes from that. Obviously, I’m very fond of this show. I was there from day one. It’s lovely to be back and to see so many familiar faces and also some new faces.
What are some of the unique challenges that will go into producing a live dance show that’s commercial-free?
No commercials from a production standpoint is going to be the biggest challenge for us. We’re used to having 4-to-5-minute breaks to change the stage. It’s now as live as live can be. It’s like doing a Broadway production. You’ve got to get all of your teams sympatico. You might see the odd set piece moving around in the back but we’re hoping to make it as smooth as possible.
What will we be seeing on our screens while stagehands are striking sets and bringing in new ones?
That’s one of the reasons we’ve got the skybox back and Alfonso as co-host. I think he’s going to be great. He’s knowledgeable and passionate. As a former [mirrorball] champion, he knows what it takes to do well on the show. He’s got a great friendship with Tyra [Banks, host]. They’ve known each other for years. The Skybox gives the dancers their own space. They have their own space away from the floor where they can support one another. This will allow the audience to see them in a different light. We’re also looking at bringing back the studio audience. It won’t be as full as it was pre-Covid. We’re trying to find a balance.
While we’re up in the skybox, our team will be changing sets on the dance floor. If it was quick before, it’ll be like NASCAR now. You might find something left behind on stage but I’m hoping that will not happen.
Dance pros Cheryl Burke and Peta Murgatroyd have each talked about how happy they are that you’re back producing the show…
I think the show is a ballroom show – that and Latin. We’ve been successful in bring other dances into the show, but we keep the core of the show in mind. You learn these different styles. What I’m really after is telling the stories of people on the most basic level. There’s the story of celebrities learning how to dance and each person has their own progress. The good thing about ballroom and Latin is that it gives you something proper against it which you can base.
I’ve always felt that the pro dancers have the hardest job on TV. They’re choreographers, dancers, and life coaches. They have to catch the personalities of the stars they’ve been paired with and get the best out of them along with learning an ever-increasing number of dances.
What was it important to have back familiar faces Mark Ballas and Louis van Amstel?
It’s important to strike a balance between fan favorites and new faces on the show. We always want to re-invigorate but you also want to get the right balance. I looked at [contestant] Charli D’Amelio and thought she has a lot of potential and that she’d need a really creative choreographer. Mark has always been one of our most creative choreographers. I called him out of the blue and asked if he was interested. He took a while to think about it. He’s spent a lot of time doing music and other things and then, it comes back to this. You can’t get the ‘ballroom’ out of the boy. He’s right back in the game. I’m looking forward to seeing what he creates.
There’s a great deal of diversity on the show now. Audiences weren’t always accepting. In 2010, Louis van Amstel and comedienne Margaret Cho were voted off after doing a Pride-themed samba to Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” When did things start to change in terms of inclusivity?
I think that America has evolved a lot in terms of culture over the last 20 years. Culturally, America has changed in knots – yes, some people are angry about the change. We don’t try to divide on this show. We try to find people from different [walks of life]. We’ve had Bristol Palin and Chaz Bono on the show. One of the benefits of having a big cast is that you can choose people who represent different elements of American society.
I think there’s something for everyone. It’s like a dinner party. You have people and they become the best of buddies. That’s one of the things the audience really likes. If you come to the show with an open heart, you can see a lot of the diversity in America.
In a way, this must feel like a huge vote of confidence – Disney is counting on Dancing With the Stars fans to follow the show to Disney+.
Yeah, it is. It really is. When it was first announced, you take a moment and you ask what does this mean for the show? It means the show has a future. Viewers are moving over to streaming. The idea of being able to make the first big live event on a streamer is a challenge. We’re an old-fashioned show in many ways but we’re also modern in terms of its look and production technique. It’s nice to be on the cutting edge of all of this. It’s a real family viewing experience.
Because the show is streaming, viewers on the West Coast can now vote. In the past, once the show went to a one-night format, they weren’t able to.
It’s ‘live’ live. The whole country votes at once; Canada can vote, too. It’s going to be inclusive. That’s what we aim to be. Being able to watch and vote – you get your live results right there at the end of the evening. It goes back to what the show should be – one big, live Broadway show each week.
Will you miss the Tuesday night results show?
I miss what it allowed us to do with musical guests. It was a lot of work but we were really proud of the shows we did. Having said that, it’s a lot of dancing. I suspect our couples would rather have an extra day to rest and rehearse rather than spend the day in suspense.
What’s your message to anyone who’s either lapsed viewer or is hesitant about signing up for Disney+?
We’re learning to adjust to COVID. There are no act breaks. You can watch Dancing With the Stars all the way through. We have incredible stories. Selma Blair’s story is amazing. We have the biggest TikTok star. We have all-around entertainers like Wayne Brady. We have such strong characters. We’re getting right back to the core of the show and we have some very strong dancers in the mix.
Dancing With the Stars, Season 31 Premiere, Monday, September 19, Disney+