UPDATE: Entertainment Weekly shared an official statement from ABC and BBC Worldwide: "Our talented Music Director, Harold Wheeler, will not be joining us for season 18 of Dancing with the Stars. Since season one, Harold and his band have performed brilliant music in our ballroom for our dancers and the American viewers at home. We are grateful to him and his band for their amazing work and years of collaboration. We wish him the best of luck." EW also heard from a source close to the show who said "live music will still be very much a part of the show." We'll have to wait for more details.
According to the president of the American Federation of Musicians (via Global News), the show’s 28 musicians, singers, and arrangers will not be returning for the new season, which starts Monday, March 17. Band leader Harold Wheeler recently e-mailed band members to say that, after 17 seasons, ABC and the producers have decided to replace the orchestra and singers with records and a small electronic band.
DWTS musician Rick Baptist posted a note on Facebook saying this was reportedly done in an attempt to attract a younger audience. He wrote "If you are concerned about the demise of LIVE music on TV, please SHARE this post and forward your concerns/opinions to : Candice.A.Ashton@abc.com. She is with Disney/ABC entertainment."
The orchestra is awesome, and we hate to see anyone lose their longtime gigs, especially when we’ve gotten used to seeing the same faces year after year. They’re part of the DWTS family! But it makes sense to rethink the music, or at least the vocals, after nine years of the same formula. Sometimes the singers just don’t have the right voices for the chosen songs and it can distract from the dances.
And as much as we'd like it not to matter that DWTS has lost a lot of younger viewers in the past few years, it does matter to advertisers, so that matters to the network and it trickles down to the show and its fans. DWTS has probably lost a good amount of revenue in the past few years (especially since The Voice arrived) and this is surely at least in part a cost-cutting move. Changing the music may not instantly bring in new viewers, but it will modernize the show a bit — like the way they changed the cast intros on Season 17 to include fun opening dance routines instead of that stodgy walk down the stairs.
This change will make DWTS a bit more like So You Think You Can Dance, which also features recordings, and maybe this way the couples can rehearse to the same music they’ll dance to, instead of adjusting to the different beats of a big band rendition. But it's not like DWTS has never used records — and there have been times when we've wondered why they decided to have the band singers perform for some routines while others get recordings.
We’re all for live music, but if you’re going to go that way on DWTS, maybe it’s best to hear it from the original artists instead of covers. That’s what they did on the Results Shows (RIP!), so maybe that’s something they can continue on occasion in the future. That way you bring in the musicians' fans (Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, etc.) on top of regular DWTS fans, and there’s still a live performance element.
What are your thoughts about this major update to the program? Will you miss Harold Wheeler and the band? Are you glad for a change in the singers?