Exclusive Interview: DWTS Host Tom Bergeron on Boo-gate, Bruno, Maks, and What’s Next
Are you ready for the real instigator of Boo-gate? It was...Jamie Lee Curtis. Yep, Dancing with the Starshost Tom Bergeron says the famous actress helped lead the boos heard round the nation last week in support of her good friend, Season 11 frontrunner Jennifer Grey. So, Sarah Palin, you now have someone to blame.
Tom B., the host with the most one-liners every week on liiiiiiive TV, spoke to Wetpaint Monday in between production meetings, ordering lunch and rehearsals for the DWTS Season 11 Week 3 performance show. He was game to discuss Boo-gate, Bolton-gate, co-hosting duties with Brooke Burke, what happened to The Hoff, life without pro dancer Edyta Sliwinska, the celeb surprising him the most this season, what we can expect to see on upcoming episodes, and how passionate pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy is "more persnickety" than he thinks.
How are things going today? What's the mood backstage?
I haven't been in on any of the rehearsals yet, 'cause I've been running around, so I haven't seen anybody doing their... what happens in the morning is they do their blocking rehearsals with the band for the first time. So that's always interesting to see, and then we do the dress rehearsal this afternoon where I'll see everybody. But it's Story Night so each of them are telling stories, theoretically, with their dances and heavy props and odd costumes, odder than usual. It promises to be fascinating. Remember last season's Story Night was when Kate Gosselin trotted out "Paparazzi" and Pamela Anderson did her PETA version of [the Paso Doble]. ... So anything could happen tonight.
It seems difficult because [head judge] Len Goodman is so vocal about how he hates all that "stuff," like the props. So you have to kind of balance out what he might want.
Exactly. He has to kind of take a chill pill tonight because the props are allowed tonight. Sometimes they go off the reservation and do them; like, I don't know, the dog house last week — which upon reflection may have been the wrong approach. But tonight they're allowed to do props so he can't really penalize them on that.
Since we're already talking about the dog house, do you think Bruno was too harsh with Michael Bolton or was he just doing his job?
I went back and looked at it again. I think he certainly was full-on Bruno. There was no question but that he felt strongly about how bad the dance was. I think what made it hard, if he had said that and maybe given a 4, even. But that 3. That shocked me enough to say "We have a 3?" I think that's what probably made it a little tougher. ... But I think that 3 really was the salt in the wound on that. I think where Len called him out was that there was nothing constructive in the critiquing, that it was all negative. And, look, his job is to call it like he sees it and if he saw absolutely no redeeming value at all, I suppose, okay fine. But usually even the harshest of critiques at least have something that you can conceivably use to work on next week. That one was lacking in that.
Do you think they're going to tone it down now? Have there been any conversations?
No, no absolutely not. I mean, really, the bottom line is he was doing his job. We don't have these guys here to be diplomats, they're here to be judges. That would be like going to Judge Judy and saying "You know, could you be nicer?" You don't want a nice Judge Judy, you want Judge Judy snapping at people! I think it's sort of like "Let Bruno be Bruno" and sort of the push back from that is sometimes other people — whether it's Len or me or celebrity or whatever — might not think that you're giving someone a full picture. And I guess that would be my only comment would be that it's nice to have a positive, something that you can work on, assuming you survive the elimination the next night as opposed to just having a litany of things you did wrong. But as far as, was he in his rights to say that? Absolutely. That's his job.
So who is surprising you as a dancer so far after two weeks?
Well, I have to admit — my kids are older now, so I don't want the Disney Channel anymore and I didn't really know who Kyle Massey was, and he has completely charmed us all. He's just, I think I called him Captain Charisma on the air last week. I love somebody that catches me off guard, like Kelly Osbourne did a few seasons ago. And he's certainly the one that I really look forward to seeing every week.
Does Maks just bicker with everybody? We saw him with Erin Andrews and now with Brandy...
Maks will take great pains to tell you that he doesn't and that we're portraying him that way! [Laughs] ... I'm very, very fond of Maks but he's more persnickety than even he realizes.
And now we've got Derek Hough with Jennifer Grey. Do you think he could be the first three-peat, winning two Mirror Balls in a row? They have been at the top both weeks so far.
I certainly think they've gotten off to a good start, but again one of the things I like about this season is there is no clear runway like there was last season with Nicole [Scherzinger]. Look at somebody like Rick Fox, who is really impressive, Kyle who is really impressive. I mean all of them have really acquitted themselves very nicely. Margaret Cho is doing a nice job, as they all are. And Kurt [Warner]. I think, what is it Week 3 now, I think unlike say last season — which is an example of almost a coronation as opposed to a competition — this one is a real flat-out competition.
How are things going with Brooke as your co-host?
Really well. I'm very, very fond of her. She's got a great sense of humor and she's adapting to this bizarre group from, not only having dealt with it already as a competitor [she won Season 7 with pro partner Derek Hough], now she has to hang with us even more. So she's adapting very well.
What can you tell us about what's coming up that's new and exciting this season?
We're doing an acoustic night next week, which will be really cool. I've seen the sketches, they're probably going to change the ballroom and it's going to be theater in the round, which is pretty cool. The whole stage area will change. Harold Wheeler and the band will all be acoustic. And it's going to have a very different kind of feel to it. I think on at least one show we're going to have a guest judge taken from the ranks of past performing celebrities. I know we're coming up on our 200th episode so we're going to have a big to-do about that. I think we'll have a special show on the 10 top dances from our past 10-plus seasons, voted on by the viewers. So there'll be some cool stuff.
Are you enjoying yourself so far this season?
I love it! I love live TV and this is a target-rich environment. Yeah, I'm having a great time. And the fact that we came out the gate number 1 both weeks that we've been on — that doesn't hurt.
So that's Bolton-gate, then there was Boo-gate. Did the producers have any regrets in cutting right to Sarah Palin? Because it did kind of seem like, what were viewers supposed to think, when you cut right from boos to ....?
I think the thing is, when you're doing a live show and it's happening in real time, I don't know what they would've done differently. If I was in the booth — and you hear Brooke and you hear some boos — they probably heard the 9s being yelled too, so they, like me, probably didn't think anything of it. I certainly didn't as I was sitting next to Sarah. I didn't think that anything untoward was going on at all. The judges had booed all night, so this was just another instance. But then I had seen kind of Jamie Lee Curtis instigating a little bit. She's a good buddy of Jennifer's Grey's. So from my perspective, I knew what it was, and as Sarah Palin said to me the next night before I went on the air, she said "I thought it was silly because I was booing the judges too." So I don't know what they would've done differently in the booth, which again deals with the immediacy of a live show versus something you can tape and edit and think about. I think from the booth's perspective and from mine it just appeared to be what it was, which was the audience booing the judges. Unfortunately you cut that way, and me sitting there, I can certainly understand why people thought it was different.
This must help to build momentum. It's PR, it's buzz. Does it help the show in some way when people are talking about everything like this?
Yeah, of course! I didn't see the coverage the next couple of days but what friends were telling me was that it was everywhere from Comedy Central to CNN. I'm sure there is a such a thing as bad publicity, but in this case I don't think it was all that bad. This is the first season without Edyta dancing as one of the pros. We're taking it hard but a lot of male viewers are probably taking it even harder because she wore the least amount of clothing. What's it been like without Edyta? Have the pros said anything?
The truth of the matter is, most of the pros — like Lacey [Schwimmer] came back to us after a season off; Maks had been off for a season; Karina [Smirnoff] I think was off for two; Kym [Johnson] was off for one. So it's not unusual for pros to have a season or two off. Julianne [Hough] has been off for now three and if we'll ever see her back again I don't know. But Edyta was the only one for whom — maybe Cheryl [Burke] — for whom that hadn't happened yet. Among the show members it happens to just about everybody at one point or another so it's not as big a surprise in the show as outside of it.
What's the story then, do you think it was just one bad dance or did people forget to vote?
I think it was one bad dance and maybe a complacent fan base. We've seen that in the past, where people think "Oh, well, so-and-so's safe because they have enough of a fan base." And then they don't vote, so you multiply that by however many thousands and then all of a sudden you're saying goodbye to somebody that was expected, and in our case certainly hoped, would stick around for several weeks. The comedic possibilities were endless.