ABC and BBC Worldwide Productions announced this week that they will not have the 28 instrumentalists, singers, arrangers and copyists return for season 18.
The network did not announce a reason for the firings, but the American Federation of Musicians cites executive changes at ABC for the decision. The musicians union says the network put “pressure on ‘DWTS’ producer BBC Worldwide Productions to cut corners and pander to a younger viewing audience.”
“Audiences for the past 17 seasons have enjoyed the talents and artistry of the excellent musicians who helped make ‘Dancing With the Stars’ so successful,” said Vince Trombetta, president of AFM Local 47, the Los Angeles branch of the musicians union. “The decision by ABC to replace the orchestra and vocalists with pre-existing tracks devalues the integrity and quality of the show that audiences worldwide have come to expect. Live dancers and live audiences deserve live music.”
The orchestra will be replaced largely with pre-existing sound recordings and a “small electronic band.”
Though ‘DWTS’ has yet to match season 12 ratings, which reached an all-time high at 22.5 million, the numbers are by no means low. Last year the show ranked as TV’s most-viewed unscripted program, beating out “American Idol” with an average of 13.9 million viewers. Local 47 Vice President John Acosta credits Wheeler and the orchestra for their role in making the show a hit.
“We congratulate the musicians for an incredible job that brought the show so much success,” Acosta said. “We appreciate that ABC and BBC Worldwide Productions recognized the value that the orchestra gave ‘Dancing With the Stars’ for nine years. It is our hope that going forward, executives will support our local musical community and acknowledge the quality that live music brings to television.”
Since news of the orchestra’s termination, the Internet has blown up with comments of shock and support from fans and editorials from bloggers condemning the network’s decision as a bad move. Rick Baptist, a trumpeter with the show since season one, was one of the first to put the news on Facebook. “I’ve heard from people all over the world — from Germany, England, even a young kid in South Africa,” he said. “As a musician, I am overwhelmed and humbled by support for keeping live music on TV.”
Six-time Tony Award-nominated bandleader and orchestrator Harold Wheeler laments the decision as part of an “industry-wide trend” of downsizing and cost-cutting. While he will miss being on the show, what Wheeler says he’ll miss most are the musicians. “We became a family in those nine years,” he said. “I am sad that we won’t get to hang any more. It’s the network’s show, they can do what they want with it. But change for change’s sake isn’t always good thing. If they destroy it, it’s a shame.”
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About AFM Local 47 – American Federation of Musicians Local 47 is a labor organization formed by and for Los Angeles musicians over a century ago that promotes and protects the concerns of musicians in all areas of the music business. Local 47 is affiliated with the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, the largest organization in the world representing the interests of 85,000 professional musicians.
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