‘Dancing With the Stars’ Bosses Defend Sean Spicer Talks: ‘We’ll Always Take the Buzz’

“As long as you’re getting talked about, that’s a positive,” EPs Ashley Edens and Joe Sungkur tell TheWrap

Dancing With the Stars” kicked off its Season 25 premiere on Monday with such stars as Nick Lachey, Frankie Muniz and Debbie Gibson. But clearly, conversations about the season would have been much different if one public figure had finalized a deal to join the fray: Sean Spicer.

Longtime executive producers Joe Sungkur and Ashley Edens spoke to TheWrap about Spicer, the former White House press secretary who was in talks to join Season 25 but ultimately did not finalize a deal to showcase his fancy footwork.

“We pretty much had the cast locked, and rumors go around, not just about Sean Spicer but about so many people,” Edens said. “It’s just how the casting worked out. We [already] had 13 great celebrities. At that point, you can’t take many more. You can’t put 14, and it’s just too crowded of a show, quite honestly.”

Sungkur added, “At some point, every celebrity around gets discussed and connected to the show.” Edens chimed in with, “And we’ll always take the buzz!”

“But we’re delighted with this cast, and part of the reason we love this cast is there’s no one alienating at all,” Sungkur continued. “We try and create a show that the whole family can watch and enjoy together, and we want the show to be a little bit of escapism in these tough times, and hopefully we’ve succeeded.”

In light of criticism over Spicer appearing on Sunday’s Emmys telecast, is the show’s team relieved that he’s not a part of the season?

“Listen, as long as you’re getting talked about, that’s a positive,” Edens replied.

The pair also discussed this year’s potential frontrunners, which stars are on their dream-casting list and why the show is a popular place for celebrities eyeing image rehabilitation.

Which performances surprised you in last night’s premiere? 

Ashley Edens: You never really know coming into the premiere who’s going to turn it on, who’s going to shy away. I think we were both totally blown away by Vanessa Lachey last night. That came out of nowhere — she was a firecracker. We loved her. I think that Victoria Arlen, she definitely rose to the occasion as well. For her to be able to pull that off last night was amazing. Lindsey Stirling rounding out the night was amazing.

And Frankie Muniz as well, it was such an incredible moment. It was electric in the ballroom as soon as his name was announced. To see someone that was so nervous and shy perform that well, really almost sums up what those premieres are about, celebrities stepping outside their comfort zone and then rising to the occasion and having an incredible moment. 

Do you tend to have a sense of who the frontrunners will be?

Joe Sungkur: I think the beauty of this show is, what we’ve learned over seasons is, clearly you have some people who have a bit more dance experience than others. But at the end of the day, it’s abot the journey that they go and the vulnerability that these celebrities show during that journey that the audiences connect with. We’re always constantly surprised by who’s popped on the premiere. I’m sure there’s going to be other big moments where other people step into the spotlight.

How do you keep things new after so many years?

Edens: I think obviously the casting is a huge part of it, but once we get our great cast, it’s up to Joe and I and the rest of the team to never rest on what we did last week or last season. The challenge is always taking the show and looking at it, and what can we add to it, whether it’s new graphics, whether it’s new ways of coming in out of commercials, whether it’s new ways of doing a video package before they dance. Last night, Vanessa and Nick had a dual package before Nick’s dance. I don’t think the show is ever the same any given week. I think it’s always our goal to break the monotony, break the rhythm, but not make the show alienate anyone.

Sungkur: I think what we’ve learned is, we have to constantly challenge the couples, so no one knows what to expect. This week, Week 2, is one of our toughest challenges we’ve ever given the couples in the history of the show. On the Monday night, it’s Ballroom night, and then on the Tuesday night, it’s Latin night, so they have to show the range that is required in ballroom dancing, from the elegant poetic Ballroom to the sexy sizzling Latin dances in the space of 48 hours.

Was recent “Bachelorette” star Rachel Lindsay ever in the discussion, and is there a reason why she’s not a part of the season?

Edens: There was no real reason other than that’s just how the casting worked out. I think every season we try and do something a little bit different.

After “Bachelorette” alum Kaitlyn Bristowe complained about not appearing on the show, did that affect your mindset during casting? 

Sungkur: Not at all. We look at the cast in each season as a blank season. We’ve had many great celebrities from the “Bachelor” franchise, and for whatever this season, we didn’t end up going with someone from that franchise, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone crops up in future seasons.

Given the flap over Sean Spicer’s Emmys appearance, are you now glad that he isn’t on the season, or do you appreciate the buzz, even if it involves controversy? 

Edens: Listen, as long as you’re getting talked about, that’s a positive. Whether Sean Spicer was on or not on, it’s kind of comparing apples and oranges. We love the cast. We’re super happy with the stars that we have. If Sean Spicer had been a part of that cast, I’m sure we’d be having a different conversation today. But just saying we love the cast!

Between Derek Fisher and previous contestant Ryan Lochte, your show appears to attract stars looking to bounce back from unflattering headlines. Why do you think that is, and do you get reps reaching out who are helping clients through crisis management?

Sungkur: We never consciously look at anything like that. I just think the show is a great showcase to get to the know these celebrities. We try and tell each story each week with a view of getting to know these people better. The show is a great vehicle for audiences to understand these familiar faces and understand who they are as people, all in the guise of a ballroom dancing competition.

Who would is your dream casting get? 

Edens: I think the dream list is ever-growing and has been long. I think sometimes the people that you want on the show so badly don’t turn out to be the people that necessarily gel with the audience. For us, Frankie Muniz is a perfect example of someone that represents everything that the show is about: a guy that has a massive nostalgia element to him, stepping out of his comfort zone doing this show. And I think the public is just going to love watching his journey. I always say John Mayer, Justin Timberlake — of course we want them. But you have to be realistic as well.

There have been previous reports about Hillary Clinton being offered a spot on the show. Are there other big-name politicians whom you would like to nab? 

Sungkur: At the moment, we’re very happy to steer clear of the political minefield and focus on family entertainment that’s not going to be divisive.

Edens: I think the public has enough of that right now.

“Dancing With the Stars” airs Tuesday at 8/7c on ABC.