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ABC and Fox both boast long-running dancing competition series with Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, respectively. Now NBC is looking to enter the fray with World of Dance.
Exec produced by Jennifer Lopez, the series sees dancers of all ages from all over the world — both groups and individuals — competing for a million-dollar grand prize as voted on by a panel of celebrity judges and dancing experts.
The series brings Lopez back to the judge’s table after her days on American Idol. Sitting alongside her are singer-dancer Ne-Yo and Dancing With the Stars alum Derek Hough, with Jenna Dewan Tatum serving as host and mentor.
For Hough, the shift to judging comes after 17 seasons competing as a professional dancer on Dancing With the Stars. (He won six times.)
World of Dance brings Tatum back to dancing: she got her start as a backup dancer for the likes of Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott before breaking out as an actress in the dance movie Step Up. (Tatum and her co-star turned husband Channing Tatum are also working on their own dancing competition series for NBC.)
Tatum says the show will quickly distinguish itself from the competition. “So You Think You Can Dance is amazing, but it’s very technical, and if you’re not a dancer sometimes it can feel a little polarizing in terms of watching it. With World of Dance, it was very much our intention to open it up to the masses,” Tatum tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We wanted to invite people in and teach them a little bit about dance, but really make it more of an experience.”
Ahead of the show’s Tuesday night premiere, Hough and Tatum spoke to THR about what fans can expect from the small screen’s newest dancing competition, the decision not to let the audience weigh in on the contestants and the biggest challenges of their new roles.
How did Jennifer Lopez and the other executive producers originally pitch the show to you? What about that initial pitch sold you?
Derek Hough: You have the Oscars for film, the Grammys for music, and this is that for dance. Obviously it’s a little different, but the stakes are very high and it’s a million-dollar prize. These dancers are the best of the best.
Jenna Dewan Tatum: I am working on another dance show, so I know them very well, and when World of Dance came around, what I really liked about it was it’s from dancers for dancers. For me growing up as a dancer and becoming an actress, Jennifer really was this icon in that world to me. And she was very passionate about having me be on the show. When she gets passionate, it’s pretty hard to say no to Jennifer Lopez. (Laughs)
Tatum: Why can’t you have two different dance shows? No one is saying no! (Laughs) They’re very different shows. Our show is more of a variety show, and there will be some comedic elements. And NBC loves entertainment, and for them, they would like to have them co-exist. We’re definitely working toward that.
Is that something you would also host?
Tatum: I would be a mentor as well, but I would put on a lot of different hats with that show.
What made you want to take the leap and get involved with World of Dance? How hesitant were you given the other project?
Tatum: I remember Jennifer said to me when we had dinner, she was like, “I have five shows right now.” She said, “The only thing that limits you right now is you.” It hit home to me, and I said, “You’re right.” I have an overall deal with NBC for unscripted, and quite a few projects that we’re talking about with them. Of course, I can’t share that yet, but that’s been really exciting. Putting on my producer hat has been really fun for me. I always say there’s a point in your career where you go from calling your agent and saying “What’s the next job?” to where then you start going, “What can I create and make?”
How hands-on was Jennifer Lopez as an executive producer for World of Dance?
Hough: One of the big things was getting myself, Ne-Yo and Jenna onboard. Her being a part of the show and a dancer herself, she was a big factor in us joining. When we met with her, she was very passionate about this project and very passionate about dance. As far as gathering the dream team of not just judges but the lighting and the creative director, she was a huge part in bringing the whole team together.
Aside from So You Think You Can Dance, dancing competitions have never become as popular as singing competitions like American Idol and The Voice. Why do you think it has been difficult for dancing competitions to become as widespread?
Hough: There hasn’t been a dance competition to put its money where its mouth is. I’m a huge fan of all things dance, but what I love about this show is we’re really putting a lot behind these dancers.
Tatum: The dance community is very niche, and if you are a dancer and love dance you are in that community. With World of Dance, we want people in the audience on their feet dancing and I really think we’ve found that fun tone.
How does World of Dance differ from other dance competition shows?
Hough: The scale of the competition. The competition is worldwide, with dancers all over the world. There are no boundaries. It’s also a competition between soloists, duos, trios and groups. When I first heard that, I was actually concerned. I [said], “How is a soloist going to compare to a group of 30 dancers?” That was put to rest very fast as a group came out to dance and then this little girl came out afterwards and she was unbelievable and silenced those fears of mine that it was going to be hard to judge or compare them. Also what’s different is the way we judge. We have a rubric, and there’s a scoring system that’s very specific.
Tatum: The biggest difference is the format. We’re finding the best dancers in the world, not just America, and we’re bringing them to our stage from the very beginning. There’s no audition steps that are finding the good dancers; we’ve already found them. Also what’s different is the prize. Winning a million dollars for a dancer just doesn’t happen. That kind of compensation is very rare. We do it for singers, actors and a lot of the other mediums of art. It’s time we do it for dancers. They are one of the hardest-working, most passionate groups of artistic individuals, and it’s time they were rewarded with compensation for what they deserve.
Derek, what can you say about your judging style?
Hough: I’m definitely very compassionate. I wouldn’t say I’m the “nice” judge, but I was certainly reminded a couple of times that this is for a million dollars. There’s one thing to just do a good dance, but I had to ask myself, “Is that the million-dollar dance?” There are certain dances that people prefer, and I preferred the intelligent and smart choreography. There are some Emmy-winning routines on this show.
Jenna, how were you able to juggle your hosting and mentoring duties?
Tatum: What I really loved was that NBC was open to redefining the role of host for me. In the very first meeting with them I said, “If you guys want to hire a Ryan Seacrest, you should hire a Ryan Seacrest, because if you want to work with me, I have danced my whole life [and] I love working with dancers. That is something I’d like to bring into this role if you are open to it.” And they said, “No, we want that. We don’t want just a typical host role.” Just being a host wasn’t as exciting as being a part of the dancers’ journey on the show. It was quite the experience and learning curve for me. I’ve never hosted anything in my life. It’s a different muscle in your brain to work, and I definitely realized that as I was going. I’ve been on stages, but I’ve never had to control an audience and a stage before, and the flow of a show. I had a laugh one time at an end of an episode and said, “Only I would do this. Only I would say yes and take on a challenge and learn while the cameras are rolling!” (Laughs)
Unlike other broadcast competition shows, America doesn’t decide the winner — the judges do. What was the decision-making behind that?
Hough: There’s a huge pressure as a judge. It was difficult. I certainly didn’t enjoy that factor, because it’s a big responsibility to have a million dollars in your hand to change somebody’s life. If it goes into a second season, that might change.
Tatum: It creates a really tense dynamic for the performance days, because it’s less about who’s the favorite. On the other shows when America votes, you tend to vote for who is your favorite, and this one is about who is the best. We’re finding who can perform the best and who is really nailing it.
How do you keep the viewers engaged and invested throughout the competition knowing they don’t have a say in who wins?
Hough: To be honest with you, I wonder how many people actually vote in these shows.
Tatum: I’ve never actually called in and voted for anyone. (Laughs) I watch it because I get invest in them. We always joke about it because you find your favorites and watch the show because you love the show, and I don’t know a ton of people who call in and vote. With our show it’s more about the experience and the ride.
World of Dance premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.
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