Dancing With the Stars Host Tom Bergeron Talks Live

Tom Bergeron
Tom Bergeron (HarperOne)
Tom Bergeron
TV Host and Author
Thursday, April 23, 2009; 12:00 PM

Tom Bergeron, host of "Dancing With the Stars," "America's Funniest Home Videos" and former host of "Hollywood Squares" (1998-2004) was online Thursday, April 23, at Noon ET to discuss his TV career and his first book, I'm Hosting as Fast as I Can!: Zen and the Art of Staying Sane in Hollywood, detailing how he overcame an explosive temper to become calm, cool and collected.

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Tom Bergeron: TB here! Looking forward to your questions. I'll answer as many as possible during the hour. I'm doing all the typing myself so don't hold The Washington Post liable for spelling errors!

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Manchester, N.H.: Hey Tom! Been a fan since your days on Rap Around. I'm curious if the advent of You Tube has had any affect on AFV?

Tom Bergeron: We're about to begin season 20 in the fall so it certainly hasn't been an adverse effect!

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D.C.: Tom, Tom, Tom ... you don't really take any of this star-dancing stuff seriously do you? But it's a great gig. What would you do if you were king and could create your own show to host, any show about any topic in any format?

Tom Bergeron: I think it's obvious we all have a fun time with the spray tanning & mirror balls and other over-the-top elements of the show. I do take the effort of the couples seriously, however. That I never mock. I really respect the time and sweat they put into their dances.

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Lund Sweden: Tom, do you miss Boston? Where will you retire?

Tom Bergeron: I'll probably ease up rather than retire completely (knock wood). I could see splitting time between CA & NH.

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Haverhill, Mass.: Tom,

When are you coming back to Haverhill so we can give you a key to the city and welcome you home?

We are all proud of our favorite son!

Jim Fiorentini

Mayor, Haverhill, Mass.

Hometown of Tom Bergeron!

Tom Bergeron: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I will be back over the summer. I've always wondered what a key to the city actually unlocks. If I need a Napoli pizza at 3 AM can I get in there and fire up the oven??

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Lakewood, Colo.: Tom, I have to say that you are one of my favorite television personalities -- you certainly rescued America's Funniest Home Videos from its disastrous decline in the Fuentes era. There is so much to be said for a reliably funny, seemingly laid back (though according to the intro to this chat, maybe not), expert host, since it allows the audience to relax and not feel anxious for that person. Pat Sajak is someone I would tend to compare you to. How did you come to this kind of specialized gig? To those of us not on the coasts, you seemed to come out of nowhere.

Tom Bergeron: I spent years doing radio and TV in New England (12 of them in Boston) before "going national" with the launch of fX cable in 1994. From there I was with Fox, Good Morning America, Hollywood Squares, AFV and that little ballroom show.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Tom, I first saw you when you were hosting Hollywood Squares. What was it like working with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Bruce Vilanch? How did you enjoy hosting the show?

Tom Bergeron: I loved it. Great people (like the two you mentioned), an easy shooting schedule (we taped 10 shows every other weekend) and lunch catered by Spago!

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Durham, N.H.: Hello from New Hampshire, Tom! Do you think that keeping your family in N.H. has helped in grounding you outside of the Hollywood glitz?

Tom Bergeron: We actually don't get to N.H. as often as I'd like, but I definitely think returning to, as my friend Carl Reiner says, "the dirt you come from," is important.

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Chicago: Do you ever dream that you are hosting another live show? Do you ever look at Seacrest and critique what you would do differently?

Tom Bergeron: I don't, in all honesty. I'm a pretty contented guy. Jeff Probst and I offered a comic take on how we'd host each other's shows for TV Guide recently, but I'm perfectly happy where I am.

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circle gets the square: Can you comment on your experience with Hollywood Squares? I actually enjoyed your show more than some other 'resurrected' shows like To Tell The Truth and Family Feud. Was it hard living in the shadow of such an iconic show and host, or did you not even think of it that way?

Tom Bergeron: I didn't worry about it because I knew going in that we'd never be able to duplicate it. Ours would be another version of Hollywood Squares but it could never be the unique phenomenon of the original. You can only lose your virginity once.

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Dupont Circle: I've been a fan since "After Breakfast" -- which I still miss terribly. And of course it's easy to see what you and Suzanne are up to. But what ever happened to the wonderful Laurie? Is she still with that guy from the Regis show?

Tom Bergeron: Laurie and I had a great lunch together in N.Y. just before I started this season of DWTS. She and Gelman are happily married with two beautiful daughters (so they clearly got their looks from Laurie).

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Arlington, Va.: Dear Tom,

Do the videos on AFV amuse you? I've watched the show for years, and I always get some good belly laughs out of every episode (the bobblehead segments always crack me up). But I wonder if (a) that type of humor appeals to you and (b) you're sick of the videos.

Thanks for taking my question. I think you're great.

Tom Bergeron: Sometimes, by the end of the season (and we shoot the season finale this Sunday) I'm a bit burnt out from watching people fall down. The animal and baby/kid clips still get me, however.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom! My boyfriend and I are absolutely addicted to watching AFV. You are a wonderful host -- your delivery is so deadpan. Some hosts are so fake that you can tell they're just reading from a screen; you however, are quite the opposite.

Tell us what your favorite part of hosting that show is. I'm sure if you submitted a video, it couldn't win (because of the legalities of the show), but are there any Bergeron family videos out there you'd like to share with us?

Also, my parents have got me hooked on DWTS now.

Thanks!

Tom Bergeron: No Bergeron family videos I'd like to share. Burn maybe, but not share!

My favorite part of hosting AFV has been meeting the unlikely array of fans. They range from Tina Fey & Dolly Parton to families from Arkansas to Norway. The love of slapstick knows no boundaries of age or nationality!

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Boston: I am old enough to remember your early days in broadcasting in Boston. Any funny stories of those days that prepared you for the unpredictable nature of your hosting duties today?

Tom Bergeron: Yes! And they're in my book, I'M HOSTING AS FAST AS I CAN! also available on iTunes!

I promise I won't dodge ALL the questions with a book plug (just some).

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Norfolk, Va.: What type of meditation techniques do you use to control your temper?

Tom Bergeron: TM. The temper issues mostly plagued me in my early twenties. I'll be 54 on May 6. The meditation (which I do daily) has been invaluable in making those outbursts a distant memory.

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"Easy Pick-Up Barbie": The best line ever from Bob the Puppet. Actually, the only reason I recognized you when I started watching DWTS was because my husband and I used to watch that morning show on Fox. We can't remember why we started watching it in the first place and we stopped watching morning TV once you left. We always thought that the apartment, as ridiculously decorated as it was, was the real star of the show. And, of course, we really missed that puppet. Does your book go into any of the thinking (or lack thereof) that went into the changes in that show?

Tom Bergeron: Quite a bit. One of the chapters, chronicling the battles with FOX, is entitled, KILL THE PUPPET.

There are great videos from Breakfast Time on You Tube, btw.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tom! Without a doubt, you are the key part of the DWTS experience. My family and I like it best when it gets later in the season and there's more extra time for "Tom moments." One of the best parts, though, is your signature "liiiiiiiiive!" opening to the show. Did you come up with that yourself? And how much of your commentary/intros do you write yourself?

Tom Bergeron: Yes, the LIIIIVE was an early ad-lib in a recording session that we all just had fun with. I record voice mail greetings for staff members urging callers to leave a message after the beep and they'll call back LIIIIVE!!

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Annapolis, MD: Tom, I heard you and Bob Saget on the late lamented Penn Jillette show and I was blown away, as I had no idea that you were so quick and funny. I don't think DWTS or AFHV allow you that kind of room to stretch out, because your job is to keep the focus (rightly) on the sequins. But I wonder if you have any interest or plans in doing something where you're more central.

P.S. What with Mother's Day and graduations coming up, can you recommend a good gift idea suitable for all ages? Maybe, I dunno, a book or audiobook?

Tom Bergeron: Well, (wink, wink), the book was exactly that kind of experience for me where I didn't have to service a format (that sounded vaguely obscene).

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Alexandria, Va.: My friend and I used to love the show, but we both quit watching this season. The "star" power hit the bottom of the barrel this season. Steve-O? Tom Wozniak? A former jailbird who didn't seem to have any shame about her time in prison? I think that's what did it in for me, Lil Kim, really. Please, try better next season.

Tom Bergeron: Interesting. You should have given it a chance. Ratings-wise, it's one of our strongest seasons.

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Baltimore, Md.: When in the world did you have time to write a book with all your hosting duties? Also, do you have any input into what videos are shown on AFV or are you viewing them for the first time as you host the show?

Tom Bergeron: I get the videos at home a few days before I do the voiceovers for them. I wrote the book between June and November of last year.

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Alexandria, Va.: Am I old? I remember when you were on Boston TV!

Tom Bergeron: We're BOTH old!!!

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Because it pays to be prepared...: What would you like on your tombstone?

Tom Bergeron: James T. Kirk said it best as Shatner played his death scene. "It was fun!"

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DC: Hey! My Mom will be 80 on May 6! Great day. Anyway, do you have any acting aspirations?

Tom Bergeron: Bob Saget and I did a few promos together for his new show, Surviving Suburbia and we had so much fun together that we're plotting to have me be his jealous neighbor if the series is picked up.

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Potomac Md.: Hey Tom. So here's an interesting question: which hosting job do you find more enjoyable, "DWTS" or "Supper club with TB"?

I mean, I would think that having Rocco DiSpirito cook you some dinner and then discuss politics and current events with assorted luminaries is more entertaining than watching Marie Osmond do impressions of her doll collection.

Tom Bergeron: DWTS. Nothing beats live.

AFV is like a finely oiled machine and is a pleasure because the staff is great. The actual taping, because it's scripted and edited later, is a bit more difficult for me.

Supper Club on Planet Green, which we shot 13 episodes of last year, was an interesting experiment but, by the 11th show, I felt like we were already "recycling" the same conversation.

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Fan since the Squares: Hey Tom:

Do you dance in real life? How do you spend your off hours to relax ?

Tom Bergeron: I'm a bit of a gym rat.

Haven't had any time off this season, however, with all the book promotion. But I've been loving it. BTW, my Facebook page (the book cover is my profile picture) is a major book pimping site! Friend me after this chat if you'd like!

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South Riding, Va.: I know how long it takes to watch a single show, but how long does it take to make all of the shows? I assume that a fair amount of time is required to prepare before any filming begins.

Tom Bergeron: DWTS is live, of course, but production teams work all week to prepare the taped packages you see before the couples dance.

We tape a one hour AFV show in about 80 minutes.

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Chantilly, Va.: I often think that the presentation of the video on AFV or the setup is what makes it funny. I assume that people send long videos and it is the show's job to find the right few seconds of the video, add the jokes, music, etc. to enhance the video. There must be a huge team of people watching the videos and looking for the best ones. How many people does it take to produce AFV?

Tom Bergeron: You're right. Now that people can upload videos to our AFV website (on ABC.com), we get about 1500 a week that way alone. It takes several screeners working full time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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Albany, N.Y.: Your response to the poster who didn't like some of the talent this season makes me wonder: What are the things that are most important to the success of a season of DWTS, or the show in general? In your judgment, how much is the contestants, how much the professionals, how much the judges, how much the feathers, etc.? We can all agree that you'll modestly decline to say how important you are.

Tom Bergeron: I was just saying to Conrad Green, our executive producer, that every season of DWTS has three parts.

1. (before the cast is announced) "I can't wait to hear who'll be on DWTS."

2. (after the announcement) "You're kidding! THEY'RE on DWTS??"

3. (a few weeks into the season) "I LOVE (so and so) on DWTS!!"

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Anonymous: I'm sure you won't answer this but were there any stars who you thought should have played longer on DWTS or any who should have been sent packing sooner?

Tom Bergeron: Yes to both.

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DC: Hey Tom,

Your shows are big guilty pleasures in our house, thanks. We worry that people in the Funniest Videos are getting hurt sometimes (very briefly). Do people send you hideous stuff and how do you screen it?

Tom Bergeron: They definitely see stars (and probably a doctor) occasionally. I don't personally screen the tapes but I've been told that some people use extremely questionable judgment in what they send in (let your imagination run with that).

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New York, NY: Hey, Tom, I love watching DWTS. I'm always interested in seeing how the cast gets along from season to season. In your opinion, what was one of the best seasons in terms of cast chemistry? I know sometimes people may feel like they have to say that the current season is always the BEST SEASON EVER (at least, that's what they do on American Idol), so let's exclude season 8 from the running.

Tom Bergeron: Season 3, with Emmit Smith & Mario Lopez neck and neck at the finish was one of my favorites.

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Burke, Va.: Tom, you are by far my favorite host on television. You always seem to have such quick (and usually funny) responses to the unexpected. For example, your comment Monday to the crowd's prolonged cheering at the start of the show regarding their caffeine intake was fabulous. Do you have remarks like that prepared and ready to go if needed or are you really that spontaneously witty?

Tom Bergeron: I'm ad-libbing. The only scripted parts are the welcome back and toss to commercials because the director is lining up certain shots. I write in the book about how I came to realize my hosting needed to be spontaneous, in the moment, on DWTS. AFV, on the other hand, because my role is to set up the clips, is mostly all on teleprompter.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, I have always enjoyed AFV but I (along with most people I know) feel that the funniest videos never make it to the prize section. Those three prizes seem to be reserved for babies, babies, babies, kids and animals. In fact, I usually turn the channel when that part comes up because I get so mad looking at the final videos and saying to myself "that was just not funny" while the video of the guy scaring the bejeezus out of his boss, etc. was overlooked. Are there focus groups that tell you what is "funniest?" Can you at least admit that most of the prize videos are not the funniest?

Tom Bergeron: There are a few reasons for that. One, some of the funniest videos had aired and won in previous seasons. Two, the people in the clips couldn't be in the studio on our taping day (and we provide transportation, etc) and three, um, some of them are not the funniest.

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NYC: Quick question: can you describe what it was like when Marie Osmond fainted in front of you on live TV on DWTS?

Tom Bergeron: I went into "Dad mode," like when my kids hurt themselves and needed my focused attention. It was surreal, though, until she blinked awake, saw me kneeling over her and said, "Oh, crap!"

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Northern Virginia: I've been watching AFV since I was little. (One thing I love about it is that it's family friendly -- not only appropriate, but also hilarious, for everyone). I was just thinking, the video screeners... what a fun job that must be! It's like goofing off all day at work by watching funny YouTube vids.

Tom Bergeron: Yes and no. They have to screen a lot of UNfunny videos to get to the ones that make the show.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: You do such a good job riffing off the cuff during DWTS, just wanted to say great job on that. My question is: What celebrities has the show come close to getting but have fallen short for one reason or another? And would you personally love to see on the dance floor in the future?

Tom Bergeron: I wanted Shatner to do it. He and his wife love the show but he told me it ain't gonna happen.

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Herndon, Va.: If you could host any other show (past or present) what would you choose? Why?

Tom Bergeron: Fill in for Carson on the REAL Tonight Show.

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Des Moines, Iowa: Tom, I think you hit just the right tone in your DWTS hosting. As you say, you have fun with the over-the-top elements, but you are always respectful of the effort put in by all the dancers.

I'm always amazed that you can keep that tone and be affable without being bland. I've laughed out loud at many of your quips.

Question: Has there ever been a hosting moment on DWTS that you wish you had a do-over for? Something you thought you didn't handle as well as you would have liked? (It's hard for me as a viewer to imagine, because you seem to handle so many challenging situations quite easily.)

Tom Bergeron: Good question. Nothing that comes to mind right now, but I could just be blocking it out...

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Anonymous: Hey Tom: Do you realize there are six (uh seven) posts with "Hey Tom" as the greeting to you? Is this somehow attributable to this being your heyday ?

Tom Bergeron: Hey! Hadn't thought of it like that!

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Minnesota, Minn.: Dear Tom,

Just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. My mom, who lost her 6-month battle with stage 4 lung cancer last year, loved DWTS with a passion. Your shows helped to make her last months more joyful.

Tom Bergeron: You are so welcome. We lost my wife's mother, whom I adored, to cancer several years ago. I know that anything which brings comfort and even a brief respite at those times can be a godsend. I'm so happy we could provide that for her.

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Anonymous: Do you ever get stage fright? Pre-show jitters? Jangled nerves from doing it live?

Tom Bergeron: No. Not at all. I absolutely love it.

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Germantown, Md.: I just wanted to let you know I think you are a great host (both shows) and you have a wonderful and quick sense of humor. Love you.

Tom Bergeron: Thanks, Mom

(kidding. that's not my mom)

Thanks, Dad

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DWTS. Nothing beats live: Serious question here: Given that emergencies ranging from minor to major can happen on a live show -- e.g., Marie's fainting, dancer injuries, wardrobe malfunctions -- does the show have a list of protocols for how the host should handle them, that you were briefed on before they occurred?

Tom Bergeron: Yes. Going to a commercial, as I did when Marie fainted, is almost always the fallback provision. The network has a dance montage racked and ready to go if we're in the last segment and there's no commercial to toss to.

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Tom Bergeron: I have to wrap it up. Thanks for all the great questions. I hope you have a chance to either get the hardcover or audiobook of I'M HOSTING AS FAST AS I CAN! All the best,

Tom

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