'Dancing With the Stars' Host Tom Bergeron on Theme Nights, His New Co-Host (Q&A)

The ABC host checked in midway through season 18 to chat with THR about working with Erin Andrews, the never-before-seen theme nights and the future of the show.
ABC/Adam Taylor

In his 18th season hosting Dancing With the Stars, Tom Bergeron continues to charm from his firm perch on the wobbly wire of "live!" television, having long ago set the perfect mock-serious tone for the sparkly charade. Following last Monday's show, Bergeron sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss working with new co-host Erin Andrews, season 18's Partner Switch Up, the wonder that is the new-and-evolved Maksim Chmerkovskiy and the future of the series.

How has it been working with Erin this season?

It's a different energy. [Former host] Brooke [Burke Charvet] and I, we're very close. We're having dinner later this week and, you know, I miss having her as part of the team. But I also think that Erin has brought her own effervescent personality, and tonight was evidence of her ability to just be in the moment. When it called for her to be serious and reportorial, she was. And when she can act like a fan and be almost a giggly girl with the couples, she has a great interaction with them. It gives me more to play with. It's always good to work with people who are comfortable in their own skin but who can throw you curveballs.

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What's been your take on all these never-before-seen theme nights?

With Party Anthem Night, I didn't really have a sense of it until it was happening, and I thought it played as a real fun two hours. Disney Night, that's something I would have expected we'd have done years ago, but we finally did it and it was wonderful. The one that I had real reservations about -- but which I ended up liking, provided it was only the one night -- was the Partner Switch Up. I didn't think that was going to work. I didn't think it was advisable. But they decided, "OK, this is only going be one week. We're not going drag it through the season; we're not going jeopardize the partnerships that have happened already." Then I was fine with it, and I think the couples were, too. 

Not everyone, though! A few of our pros in particular hated it.

It was very interesting, though. I think during the Switch Up, we got a better view of the pros as opposed to the stars -- their own insecurities, areas of confidence, jealousies, looking over their shoulders at other pros in some cases, or in other cases being at complete ease with whoever they got. So I thought it was fascinating for that and would maybe like to see it in future seasons -- provided, again, that it'd be just the one week.

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I think the reason the Switch Up was so loathsome was because we had no idea it would be temporary. It was just this looming thundercloud in promo after promo.

Honestly, it was unclear to everyone. My understanding was that it originated with the network. It wasn't a homegrown thing within the show. The network thought, well, we can promote this, and this'll be interesting, so figure it out. 

We're both big fans of Maks. Are you loving his recent psychological evolution as much as I am?!

This is such a great relationship that he has with Meryl [Davis]. I had a friend the other day who wanted to know, "Are they getting romantic?" I said no -- I honestly think from everything I've seen that it's a very sweet, almost big brother-little sister kind of thing. 

And yet she's sort of the wise old mentality guru drawing the best out of him.

Yeah! I think this is his best season, I really do. I think in a lot of ways, you're getting to see the Maks that I've always been very fond of. Bruno [Tonioli] just said to me during one of the breaks, "What's Maks on this season?" I said it's really not that, it's just the right chemistry. Plus, he's a little older, he's at a different point with his life and career, and as I think he's even said on the air, he's learning to enjoy the journey of it more. I don't wanna jinx anything, but boy, I don't think he's ever been closer to the mirror ball. 

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I just got chills from both the severity and the absurdity of your tone.

Well, he's come really close. You want to see your friends succeed, and other people have won multiple times. I would love to see Maks win. By the way, I agree with what Bruno said about their salsa. You look at Meryl out there with six pros behind her, and she was the one you were looking at. He's got the gold mine with her. 

For sure. And the audience gets the added benefit of a more pleasant, mindful Maks.

That's right. The Zen Bad Boy of the Ballroom!

With show runner Conrad Green leaving after this season, it'll be the end of a DWTS era. I need to make sure: Will you still be around as long as the show's still around?

I'm under contract for two more seasons, so I'm here at least through the spring of next year.

How do you see the show changing, if at all?

It's hard to know. I'm sure we're on in the fall -- they'll announce that formally very soon, I would imagine. We're up year to year, which is unusual for a show that's so long-term. So I would think we've at least got those two seasons, and we'll see what happens after that. I still have fun. I love working on the show and I love the people. But I'm also a realist about television shows and typical life spans. I've been fortunate both with this and America's Funniest Videos, which I've decided to wrap up after next season. By that point I will have done this for 15 years. That's crazy! If you didn't have these shows working simultaneously, that's like a quarter century of network television. 

You're basically plowing through two different people's wildly successful careers. 

Yes, I've just condensed them into a 15-year period. So I don't wanna be a hog about it or too greedy, but I would love to see Dancing With the Stars go beyond 2015. Look, whether it's two seasons a year or, in the future, one season a year, or whatever, I certainly think it's a format that has -- no pun intended -- legs. I can see it continuing. There's a lot of energy and vitality in the show.

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Has that ever waned, from where you've been standing?

It's certainly always been a wonderfully produced show. Clearly, the numbers aren't at the level they were when we were three or four seasons in and we were doing 22 million. But no one's doing that anymore. You look at the landscape now, and it's amazing what ratings are versus what they were for network television even five years ago. 

Meanwhile, the traditional ratings system seems more and more bogus as time goes on.

This could be a factor of my getting older, but to me, that 18-49 obsession is so annoying. You know, news shows go ages 25-54, that's their target demo. So I asked our network guy, I said, "Move the needle a bit, tell me how we'd be doing in 25-54," and of course it was a totally different number, a much higher number. To me, we're a celebrity ballroom show -- we're never going to be the first choice of young viewers. 

For any show to have more than 10 million viewers these days is something a network can't possibly ignore.

Right, and our show has a lot of ancillary benefits, too. I mean, it gets covered by people like you. And all the other entertainment shows -- it becomes part of what they report on. So that's good for the network, too.