New York (CNN Business)Tom Bergeron isn’t the only person who’s unhappy about the casting of Sean Spicer on “Dancing With the Stars.”
Some staffers at ABC News are “up in arms,” as one source put it, over the decision by ABC’s entertainment division.
The network is casting the former White House press secretary, best known for his obfuscation on behalf of President Trump, for what’s supposed to be a delightful dance-off.
But Wednesday’s announcement took a dramatic turn when complaints were expressed externally when over Spicer’s role, with one internal complaint coming from “Dancing” host Tom Bergeron, who shared his views publicly.
There were also grumbles inside ABC News, especially because “Dancing” is constantly promoted by the news division, especially by “Good Morning America.” Nine sources in and around the news division at ABC spoke to CNN Business on the condition of anonymity about this discomfort within the ranks.
The staffers expressed a range of opinions — some said there was just “eye rolling” going on. A couple said they didn’t care about the Spicer pick. One remarked, “How long do you really think he’s going to last?” But others said they were pissed.
“It’s a slap in the face to those of us who had to deal with his baloney and the consequences of the ongoing lies and disinformation campaign at the White House,” one of the staffers said.
Spicer was “horrible” to “so many of us,” another ABC source said. “It’s disgusting to think he is getting on the show and getting paid by our company.”
When reached by phone on Wednesday night, Spicer responded to the criticism by saying, “I think this is an entertainment show. I look forward to having some fun. And if people are looking for news, I suggest they tune into a news program.”
The next season of “Dancing With the Stars” is set to start on September 16.
Going on “Dancing” isn’t typically a height-of-your-fame move. As New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik wrote on Wednesday, “you could say that being cast on ABC’s ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is punishment enough. It is not generally a sign of a thriving career.”
One of the ABC sources quipped that the reality show could be called “Dancing with the Down and Out.”
Spicer, for his part, said in response to the Times column, “I am very happy with who I am and who I support. I’m not changing. I am giving people another opportunity to see a side of me that is different.”
But that still poses a predicament to ABC News staffers who are charged with promoting the show.
The broader question is this: How should ex-White House officials be treated when they spend months misleading the American people, then seek positions of fame and privilege? Spicer, for instance, was scrutinized when he was awarded a visiting fellowship at Harvard in 2017.
These questions are especially tricky when Trump administration veterans interact with news organizations. It is no wonder why Spicer and his successor in the press secretary role, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have not been hired as political analysts by any TV networks — they spent their days undermining the networks and defending a president who calls the news media the “enemy of the people.”
One of the sources at ABC News acknowledged this tension. Sure, they said, the producers of “Dancing With the Stars” are supposed to pick whoever is going to supply the most buzz. But for “GMA” to lean into it — by setting up a faux White House podium for his intro on Wednesday — is problematic. The source said “GMA” is like two universes on one show, with the 7 a.m. hour reporting on Trump’s mendacity and then the 8 a.m. hour, with big “Dancing” promos, treating it as one big joke.
According to Variety, Spicer will earn six figures by being on the show. The Hollywood trade publication reported that that contestants make $125,000 for the rehearsal period and the first two weeks on air. If they make it further, Variety reported, contestants continue earning additional fees, maxing out at $295,000.
Bergeron raised eyebrows when he said in a tweet, hours after the “GMA” reveal event, that he hoped the new season “would be a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free of inevitably divisive bookings from any party affiliation.”
He said the show’s producers decided to “go in a different direction.”
Responding to Bergeron’s statement, Spicer told CNN Business, “I think Tom has been a great host. And I firmly believe when the season is over he’s probably going to realize bringing a diverse group of people together, who can interact in a fun, civil and respectful way, is actually a way we can move the country forward in a positive way. And it will make this show an example of how Americans can disagree about politics and tune into good entertainment shows and keep their politics at bay.”