The talented American television personality Tom Bergeron is no amateur when it comes to hosting. From game shows to talk shows to reality competitions; Tom has hosted them all. It’s no wonder ABC picked him up to host the increasingly popular reality series, Dancing with the Stars. Now on the brink of the Dancing with the Stars season four semi-finals, BuddyTV sat down with Tom to talk about his experience hosting the show and to hear his predictions on how he thinks tonight and the remainder of the competition will unfold.
Read the full interview transcript and listen to the mp3 audio below.
You started off in radio as a disc jockey. Can you tell us how you made that transition from radio into television and if that was something you always wanted to do?
I made the transition by accident. I was doing a radio show in New Hampshire, a nightly radio show that had musicians coming in and performing live and I’d make phone calls all over the world to just do comedy stories and, you know, it was standard radio fare. And that show was listened to by some people who work in Boston television who called me completely out of the blue and said, “We like your show, we’d like you to come down and audition for stuff we’re doing.” And I did and got one of the gigs on the then Boston NBC affiliate and ended up working in TV in Boston for about eleven years and then, as a result of that, when FX cable launched in New York back in ‘94, they invited me to host their morning show. And one thing sort of led to another. Then that led to work with Good Morning America, and with…then Hollywood Squares, because I met Whoopie on that show. And the deal, it’s all been sort of one serendipitous accident after another. No real plan, it only looks like there was a plan in hindsight, it wasn’t.
You’ve had a lot of different hosting jobs in your career across multiple genres from game shows to talk shows to reality TV. What’s the most difficult part about hosting a TV show that you know, maybe a normal person wouldn’t expect?
The most difficult—the hardest thing for me to host is a taped show. For example, America’s Funniest Videos is harder to do than Dancing with the Stars. Dancing with the Stars is live, it has a clear beginning, middle and end. It focuses my energy because there’s no second take and I love it. And Videos is fun because it’s a great slapstick comedy show. I call it the annuity cause it just keeps going. But we shoot it—even though we’ll shoot the show, an hour show in about an hour and a half, the way they edit it when it’s finally aired, I can’t—for example if something strikes me as funny and I think of a line about a tape that you’ve just seen, it’s a lot of back referencing. They’ll say “please don’t do that because we don’t know if we’re gonna put this up against that.” So there’s more of a stop and start feel to that which makes it more—I’m always sort of biting my tongue a little bit. But having said that it’s been you know, it’s been incredibly durable and continuous to do really well with families and kids.
Is it difficult juggling more than one show at once?
Sometimes when the schedules are…for example we just wrapped the season for America’s Funniest Videos and there were a few weeks in there where I was doing the two live shows of Dancing and then the next night going and taping a few of the video shows and doing voice over sessions for both and press for the various shows and such so it can get a little busy at times. But that’s much more preferable than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. You keep it in perspective, really.
Can you tell us how you landed your job as the host of Dancing with the Stars?
They asked me. ABC asked me based on our relationship on the Video show and the other things I’ve done for them like the Miss America and the Daytime Emmys but the Daytime Emmys came after Dancing started. But, it was, “We got this six week summer series that we’re putting on in June and July, you wanna do it?” And they said “it’s a ballroom dance competition.” I went, “Huh?” And they said “No, no, look at the British show because the British show is really the mother ship for all of the Dancing with the Stars shows around the world.” And I looked at the DVD and loved it. I just thought it was a great sort of throwback to old style variety shows and had this reality element—somebody’s voted off every week and not to bury the lead again, but it was live and that’s for me the real juice of it. I mean, that’s what I love, it’s that you go out there and it’s happening as you’re watching it.
Dancing with the stars—it’s become one of the most popular reality competitions on television today and we’re already on the brink of the semi-finals of a very successful season four. What do you attribute the show’s success to?
I’m almost hesitant to try to over analyze it, actually, because it’s like if you take apart a joke and then it’s not funny anymore. So, I don’t know, I mean I have my own feeling about why it works in the sense that it’s just…there’s something about watching people outside of their comfort zone, doing something for nothing really more than bragging rights to a little trophy. And watching that unfold week in, week out…I mean, moments like Leila Ali dancing the waltz for her dad on the show Monday night, it’s just great, great television. And, people get wrapped up in these stars and these teams. The professional dancers are in many ways celebrities themselves now, the ones who have been with us three or four seasons.
Who would you say has impressed you the most on this season of Dancing with the Stars?
Well, Joey, I kind of knew he probably would be pretty good because of N’Sync. But I had no idea about Laila Ali or Apolo. You know, how would their athletic prowess translate to ballroom dancing? You know, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and it was the case last season, of it really working well. I thought Laila would probably…because when you’re in the boxing ring, footwork is so important. But when you’re on skates, I didn’t know if that would translate necessarily to an ability to dance. I’d have to say that Apolo has really been the biggest surprise to me how good he is.
Cheryl Burke is the only dancer that won back to back competitions. What do you think are her odds or what kind of shot does she have as far as pulling of a repeat?
Well this past Tuesday when Billy Ray Cyrus was voted off, I think a lot of people assumed Ian and Cheryl because of their scores and the difficulty that Ian had to really sort of…he might dispute this, but I think the general perception is that he’s had a harder time finding the sheer joy of dancing. He’s very technically good it and he’s very good at it. He works hard, but it doesn’t always translate to just having fun and so I think that’s counted against him. I think a lot of people assumed that the bottom two would be Billy Ray and Corina and that they would go, and the other couple would be Ian and Cheryl. And it wasn’t, it was Joey and Kim. So, you know, there are a lot of surprises here still in store and it has to do with the 50% of the tally which comes from the viewers and who they choose to vote for.
Is it difficult for you to stay objective on a show like Dancing with the Stars?
Well, I’m supportive of all the couples. But I’m also not gonna lie if you ask me a direct question. I mean, you know, I was really candid about what I think Ian’s problems are and who I think is the biggest surprise. I think Billy Ray, for all of the work he put in, just wasn’t a dancer. He just wasn’t. So, I’m objective in the sense that I hope everybody has a great time and I’m supportive of all their effort but I’m not blind to who’s really good and who stinks. Yeah.
What would you say has been the most embarrassing on air moment in your career?
Most embarrassing on air moment. Oh. Oh, okay. Happily they’ve been very few. Years ago when I was doing a TV show, a live TV show in Boston, a daily talk show, it was on at 12:30 to 1:30 in the afternoon. I was also hosting a morning radio show that was on from five to nine a.m. So, over a period of time, I really was exhausted, which is why I marvel at Ryan Seacrest’s schedule. I would go nuts inside of a month of trying to do what he does. So, I was in this radio show and doing the TV show and I wasn’t always doing the prep work for the TV show that I should’ve done because I was too tired. So I had this guest on but I don’t remember what the topic was but the segment producers would typically hold up, like, cue cards or things with suggested questions if they felt I was missing an area that was important.
So I looked over to the sidelines and I see “ask about the sister.” And I didn’t remember why that would be relevant anyway, so I said “How would your sister feel about this?” And the woman just looked shocked and she goes, “Well she’s dead.”
And I could feel myself starting to turn crimson and I couldn’t run so I said “Well I know, but I mean, had she lived…”
Yeah, that was tap dance. So, even though I wasn’t with dancers I was tap dancing. Best as I could.
Well, aside from Dancing with the Stars, of course, what are your other favorite TV shows? What do you like watching?
Oh, I’m a fan of the show that we’re up against on Tuesday nights, House. I love Hugh Laurie and House. That’s one I watch as often as I can. I’m a bit of a news junkie so a lot of the time I spend with news channels on at home. And every so often the original Office with Ricky Gervais, I love that so much that, as much as I like Steve Carell, I haven’t been able to get into the American version. I tend to gravitate towards British comedies which make it easier to work with the BBC on Dancing.
I understand that you’ll be a celebrity guest host for Who Wants to be a Millionaire, is that correct?
Right. I taped that some months ago but it actually airs…I think it airs starting Monday. I did a week filling in for Meredith and that was fun. It brought me back to my days doing Hollywood Squares, we do five shows in a day. You know, you do three in the morning, break for lunch, come back, then do two. It was a lot of fun and again with Brits, Michael Davies who’s the executive producer, he and I have done a few other projects together. That was a lot of fun and that was in New York. My wife and girls and I live in Connecticut when I’m not working out here. So it was nice just to drive down the street to work.
Do you have any other projects in the works right now that you want your fans to be aware of?
Not really, I mean just these two shows I think people see enough of me doing two primetime shows and you know Hollywood Squares is in reruns and Videos is rerunning all over the place so when I’m not doing these, I just sort of go into semi-retirement mode.
Great. Well thanks again, Tom, for your time and from all of us at BuddyTV we just want to wish you the best of luck.
(Interview Conducted by Royce Yuen)
(Image Courtesy of ABC)