'Dancing With the Stars' Co-EP on the Season 28 Cast & 'Masked Singer' Identities

Michael Maloney
Q&A ABC/Eric McCandless; Michael Becker/FOX

Deena Katz, as co-executive producer of both Dancing With the Stars on ABC and The Masked Singer on Fox, is charged with finding celebrities to appear on not one, but two reality/competition series. With both shows set to return next month, she's been busy finding stars who have dancing potential and singers who are both known and unknown.

TV Insider caught up with Katz at a recent TCA party and chatted with her about how the two shows vary and what viewers can expect when they return in September.

How is Masked Singer different from DWTS?

Deena Katz: It's really interesting because on The Masked Singer, celebrities, who have been so used to performing and getting that interaction from and with the audience now have to be able to relate to an audience that isn't able to see their eyes. They really have to embody the character they're playing. Sometimes at first, they think, "Oh, I’ve got this." But they have to wear the outfits and get into those characters. It's very different.

How early has someone's identify behind the mask been guessed either by viewers or people behind the scenes at the show?

The judges may have an idea, but they don't really know. We see the audience on social media start to guess [earlier]. It's easier for the audience at home rather than the judges or the audience in the studio because viewers at home can google! Initially, we put up a height of the singer [on-screen], but viewers at home were googling that right away.

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How much of the show is guessing who the singer is and how much are the performances?

People love the music, but what they really love is playing the game, trying to figure out who's behind the mask. Less than a dozen people know who the singers really are. Our director sand stage mangers don't know. [Hardly anybody] knows so it's so fun to watch our crew trying to figure it out. We keep it a secret from everyone.

There must be a whole operation to it.

There is. I have a whole security team in charge of that. [The singers] come onto the lot wearing a mask. If they have a spouse or an agent who comes with them, then they wear masks, too. Nobody's revealed. When they get here, they wear sweatshirts that say, "Don't Talk To Me." And some production have shirts that say, "You Can Talk To Me." We never call them by their names. It's so lockdown, it's amazing.

(Michael Becker/FOX)

You find talent for both shows. Is there crossover?  

Yes. In season one [of Masked Singer], we had several people [who'd been on Dancing With the Stars including] Joey Fatone, Donny Osmond … I always like to mix it up.

[This upcoming season] is different. On dancing, you can do that show having no dance experience.

On Masked Singer, you have to be able to sing. It's different criteria. Every season the bar is going to be set higher regarding singing ability. The hidden talents are the best ones — like you probably didn't know [football legend] Terry Bradshaw could sing. It's hard to know who they are if they don't have a recording contract but I'm finding more of those people.

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Karey Burke, President, ABC Entertainment, has said that the level of stardom on DWTS would be raised, but how do you gauge that? A star to one person isn't necessarily a star to another.

It's still a jigsaw puzzle. It's still about putting [the whole cast] together. We're trying to get more relevant names. It's more about who's relevant. I love the nostalgia [stars] but the names this year are a bit more relevant, a little less niche.

We've seen so many stars surprise us with their dancing growth during their season.

Exactly. We will have that. We'll also have people where you thought you knew them one way and they'll surprise you. Everyone I put on [the show] is a good person at heart. Let yourself enjoy the ride.

(ABC)

Can you talk about which pros will be back? We've seen a lot of dancers from the troupe move up to being a pro over the years, too.  

It's always a really hard call to make. I want to see all the dancers every season. They're all family. It's also nice to get new dancers. That could mean bringing back someone you haven't seen in a while. I don't always want to see a particular dancer with, say, a football player. It's about what will surprise the audience. You learn a different thing about the dancer when they're with a different [type of] celebrity. We always want to give our core audience what they want.

Audiences used to get behind a particular star when it came to who'd win, but that's shifted over the years to where they're rooting just as much — if not more — for the pro dancer.

That started happening several seasons ago. They're the constant on the show. Every season you're meeting new celebrities, but the dance pros are the constants. Part of what we're trying to do this season is bring it back to it being about the journeys of the celebrities and having the dancers be there as their soul partner. That can be difficult because now the dancers are celebrities in their own right.

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Dancing With the Stars, Season 28 Premiere, Monday, September 16, 8/7c, ABC

The Masked Singer, Two-Hour Season 2 Premiere, Wednesday, September 25, 8/7c, Fox