EXCLUSIVE: Hold on to your Danskins: Dancing with the Stars is relocating to Disney+ in a groundbreaking arrangement.
DWTS has received a two-year pickup — for Seasons 31 and 32 — and will debut exclusively on Disney+ this fall in the US and Canada, becoming the first live series to debut on the service. It is also believed to be the first live streaming reality show in the US, marking another milestone for direct-to-consumer platforms.
In an advisory to its affiliate stations sent this morning, ABC notes that NFL football is part of its plans for the Monday 8-10 PM slot on the fall schedule that has been occupied by DWTS for the past 15 years.
“After over 30 seasons of the program on ABC, including two spin-offs, Dancing with the Stars will move off of ABC this fall in order for the Network to showcase several Monday Night Football games as well as develop and invest in new and future programming,” said the network, which also has had success with fall installments of The Bachelorette in the past two seasons.
As part of ESPN’s MNF contract, beginning in 2022, ABC will air exclusively an additional Monday Night Football game, which will expand to three in 2023.
With Prime Video, Peacock and Apple TV+ becoming players in live sports, live entertainment had remained the last bastion of network television. That started to change this year when longtime broadcast staple ACM Awards streamed on Prime Video, a landmark which is now followed by DWTS’ move to Disney+.
While other broadcast shows have relocated to streaming services such as SEAL-Team and Evil to Paramount+ and (post-cancellation) Lucifer and Manifest to Netflix and AP Organic to Peacock, this is the highest-profile, most established and popular series — and first major non-scripted one — to take the leap so far.
Disney brass certainly hope that DWTS’ big following will translate into new viewers — and ultimately additional subscribers — for the platform.
“Dancing with the Stars has entertained fans for 16 years on ABC, and we are excited to bring this beloved show exclusively to Disney+ as the platform’s first-ever live series,” said Kareem Daniel, chairman, Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution. “The show’s broad appeal, as well as the overwhelming popularity of its Disney-themed competition nights, make Disney+ the perfect home for Dancing with the Stars while continuing to expand our demographic reach.”
There is a precedent that underscores the power of a successful broadcast reality series and how it can translate to steaming. Netflix had struggled to make a tooth in the unscripted space until it bought a revival of Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, which had originated on Bravo before becoming a pop culture phenomenon on NBC. It put Netflix on the reality programming map and remains one of the streamer’s popular unscripted titles.
DWTS could certainly add some sparkle, if not more subscribers to Disney+, which has found it challenging to launch a big hit series beyond the Marvel and Lucasfilm franchises. The platform has tiptoed into the competition show genre with programs like Foodtastic and Be Our Chef, but nothing has made the kind of noise that DWTS has for so many years on ABC.
The move is a departure from Disney’s streaming strategy for ABC whose programming goes to the company’s other streamer, Hulu. Goal DWTS is a unique family show that fits well on Disney+ whose growth has been Disney’s top priority. Additionally, DWTS‘ signature Disney-themed nights will create synergy opportunities for Disney+ which carries the movies showcased on the program. Having previously struggled to break out on streaming platforms, competition series have started to get traction and create buzz lately with titles like Netflix’s nailed it, Floor Is Lava and Is It Cake?.
“Dancing with the Stars has been a beloved staple on ABC for 30 seasons and brought so much joy to millions of viewers,” continued Dana Walden, Chairman of Entertainment, Walt Disney Television. “As we’re significantly expanding our unscripted slate at ABC, this is a great opportunity to introduce this show to a whole new generation of fans on Disney+. We’re so grateful to our incredible partners at BBC Studios and look forward to continuing our relationship with them on this spectacular series, which will continue to be overseen by Rob Mills and the talented Walt Disney Television Alternative team.”
ABC’s longtime reality chief Mills now serves as EVP, Unscripted and Alternative Entertainment, Walt Disney Television, leading Walt Disney Television Alternative as well as non-scripted development and production for Hulu as well as daytime programming for ABC. Being produced by BBC Studios and streaming on Disney+ would put DWTS outside of Mills’ jurisdiction but he and his team will remain in charge, providing continuity for the program.
Like many broadcast reality series of its generation, DWTS, a US version of the UK series Strictly Come Dancing, launched in the summer. Following its initial June-July 2005 run, the show aired two cycles for 13 years until switching to one annual fall edition in 2019. Originally airing twice a week, DWTS went down to one episode a week for its entire run in 2018.
“The fact that our iconic global format Dancing with the Stars will now set the record as the first live series on Disney+ represents a major growth opportunity and a bold next step forward in the evolution of the franchise,” said Valerie Bruce, General Manager, BBC Studios, Los Angeles Productions “This unprecedented move, combined with our two season pick-up, is a testament to the proven power of Dancing with the Stars and a resounding vote of confidence from our great, supportive partners at Disney, showing how much they value and believe in the brand.”
While season 30 of DWTS was by no stretch its highest-rated — it was down 18% in viewers from 7.3M to 6M — it still ranked among the Top 5 unscripted series with Adults 18-49 last fall. Additionally, the ballroom show broke new ground by featuring the first same-sex duo in Jojo Siwa and Jenna Johnson. Siwa ended up coming in second to Iman Shumpert, who became the first-ever NBA winner of DWTS. It was a powerful season that demonstrated how DWTS could still crack the zeitgeist after 16 years on the air.
In the season prior, ABC attempted to keep the show fresh by replacing Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews with new host Tyra Banks. The mastermind behind America’s Next Top Model polarized viewers with her awkward small talk and garish gowns but the audience grew. Fans still wanted their ballroom fix.
By the end of season 30, however, ABC decided the show needed another makeover so it bid farewell to Executive Producer Andrew Llinares and began looking for a replacement. For now, it seems, Banks is remaining on the show.
While DWTS hasn’t been a moneymaker for years, it was a big reason for viewers to stay tuned to a broadcast network. Finding a big-tent reality show like DWTS, Survivor and The Voice has long been the holy grail to broadcasters, so as DWTS is expected to boost Disney+, its departure will have an impact on ABC and its affiliates. Station owners will likely make their feelings known about the loss of the venerable performer during the ABC Affiliate Meeting in New York City on May 18, a day after the network presents its fall 2022 schedule which, for the first time in 16 years, won’ you don’t have DWTS on it.
Peter White and Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.