‘Dancing With the Stars’: ABC Exec Claims He Was ‘Stunned’ by the Sean Spicer Backlash

In hindsight, ABC’s decision to cast Sean Spicer on Dancing With the Stars seems like a misguided one. For starters, the loud (and mostly negative) feedback ABC received spoke for itself. Many fans hated the idea of a celebrity dance competition becoming a sort of political battleground.

But the backlash to Spicer apparently came as a complete surprise to a high-ranking executive at the TV network. Rob Mills, an ABC Entertainment senior VP, told Variety he was “stunned” by the reaction to Spicer’s casting.

In comments published December 23, Mills said he believed Spicer was out of the public eye long enough to no longer be controversial. As for going with another polarizing political figure on DWTS in 2020, Mills didn’t rule it out.

ABC exec surprised ‘people still cared that much about Sean Spicer’

DANCING WITH THE STARS – Sean Spicer and Lindsay Arnold | Kelsey McNeal via Getty Images

When Mills spoke about casting decisions on Dancing With the Stars, he seemed to follow what viewers of the show have said. Mills said the idea is for people “to feel something and not feel apathy. You don’t want to upset people and turn them off.”

So the confusing part comes when Mills expresses surprise about the reaction to Spicer. “I was frankly stunned that people still cared that much about Sean Spicer,” he told Variety. “I mean, gosh, he had been out of the public eye for about a year. But clearly I was wrong.”

Actually, Spicer had been out of the public eye for most of two years. (He resigned in July 2017.) But that didn’t change how millions of Americans viewed the former White House press secretary.

In fact, Mills only needed to see hear what DWTS champion Adam Rippon said after learning of Spicer’s casting. “Sean Spicer’s a [expletive] liar,” Rippon told USA Today. “I had Tonya Harding on my cast … but this … is a little bit more extreme.”

‘DWTS’ fans could see more polarizing figures ahead in 2020

Sean Spicer walks past a group of photographers on November 26, 2019 in Los Angeles. | TM/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

As shocked as Mills was — and as unimpressive as DWTS ratings were for Season 28 — that doesn’t mean ABC will avoid casting polarizing figures in the future.

“I think you never say never to anything,” Mills told Variety. “We would never say never to someone in politics. We would look at anything, potentially, if it were good for the show.” (Mills didn’t say whether he believed Spicer was “good for the show.”)

DWTS fans will have to draw their own conclusions about Mills’s comments ahead of an election year. But the bottom line is clear: Like any other TV show, drawing attention is the point. If that takes bringing on someone the audience hates, the show would likely weight that risk against potential ratings.

Mills did mentioned a celebrity he hoped would turn up in Season 29: Charlie Sheen. In Sheen, DWTS would get a controversial figure who is an actual star. Though Sheen is hesitant says he can’t dance, that’s never stopped anyone from going on the show in the past. Just ask Sean Spicer.

Also see: Why ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Won’t Be Back in Spring 2020