The producers of “Dancing With the Stars” are responding to the controversial casting of Sean Spicer (Season 28) and Adrian Peterson (Season 32), among others.
“We’re a silly ballroom dance show, we’re teaching people how to cha cha. The country is divided, so half of the people may have one political view and the other half have the other. At the core of it, we always just go for nice, good people,” executive producer Deena Katz told Variety following ABC’s unscripted panel at the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday.
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Katz added that former White House press secretary Spicer became friends with many members of the cast during his time on the show. However, there was a great deal of controversy amid his casting, with former host Tom Bergeron among those expressing disappointment over how the show was being politicized.
“I think everyone needs to, for the two hours you’re watching, just enjoy this. Enjoy someone’s journey and get to know someone,” Katz continued. “My hope is that someone that maybe didn’t like Sean Spicer because of his political affiliation, you’re watching the show, and he’s just a guy. I think what we try and do is [show] it’s more than that, that you get to know these people and you end up understanding that there are people you really like.”
Executive producer Conrad Green added that the show has leaned less into political figures recently, because “people are exhausted by politics.” But they still want to represent people from different cultures: “We’re all Americans, we’ve all got a lot of affinity with each other and trying to show how people can work together, compete against each other in a healthy, positive way.”
The more recent season of “DWTS” came under fire again for its casting choices, this time for including former NFL player Adrian Peterson (who faced child abuse charges in the past). Former pro Sharna Burgess blasted the show for having Peterson be a part of it, saying on her podcast that if he were her partner, “I would turn around and walk right out.”
“We vetted Adrian, we met Adrian. We found out everything we needed to know,” Katz told Variety. “He went back to play in the NFL, everybody had checked out Adrian. We took that as we did our due diligence. We thought he was a lovely family man, his wife is great and he was an amazing football player that had an amazing record.”
The show will not “necessarily turn someone down because of some things they did in the past,” Green added. “A lot of people make mistakes in their lives. Sometimes, we’ve tried to take a broader picture about where they’re at, where they are now and look at the cast as a whole.”
Katz also brought up that in Season 21, Paula Deen competed on the show just a few years after admitting to using the “N”-word. “In this culture, that would have been looked at a little bit more, but I’m with Conrad. People are also allowed to make a mistake,” Katz. “And I think that that’s why Paula came on, just to actually say, ‘I made a mistake, and I’m sorry.'”
During the panel, which also included producers from “The Bachelor,” “Shark Tank” and “Jeopardy,” Katz admitted that when it comes to casting, it’s important to find people who are very well known and some people who have a specific, niche fan base.
“All of us, unfortunately, have to do a little bit of that clickbait that gets people there,” she said. “All of us are great storytellers. And at the end of the day, we’re all telling really good stories.”
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