Derek Hough on Why He Saved Carole Baskin Over Charles Oakley on ‘DWTS’

Derek Hough DWTS Episode 2
ABC/Eric McCandless

Former New York Knick Charles Oakley and Carole Baskin (Tiger King) weren’t the only ones under pressure in the finale moments of Dancing With the Stars last night. Derek Hough, new to the ballroom as a regular judge on Season 29, had to decide who he wanted to save between the two in a very short amount of time.

Hough told TV Insider and a small group of reporters after the show that it’s more than a bit challenging when he sees the clock ticking away with only a few seconds left and he needs to render his decision. “Carrie Ann [Inaba] was like, ‘Let me tell you why [I’m choosing who I’m choosing] and Bruno’s like, ‘Let me tell you why…’” Hough notes with a good-natured chuckle. “Then, it was, ‘Derek you have to give us an answer!’”

Fortunately, Hough, who first appeared on the show as a pro dancer in Season 5, knows the drill. “Hey, it’s my job,” he says. “I can’t complain.” Plus, he reveals, to his understanding, he won’t be the one called upon to be a potential tie-breaker each week. “It’ll trade off,” he muses, adding wryly, “but I want to thank everyone for leaving it up to me!”

But not being able to fully convey on air why saved Baskin over Oakley has Hough lamenting the show isn’t longer than two hours.

“It really was the progress that [Carole] had made,” says the professional dancer of choosing the Big Cat Rescue owner, who caught himself being lost in the “beauty and grace” of Baskin’s Viennese Waltz with partner Pasha Pashkov. “I had to look at it from that perspective.”

(ABC/Eric McCandless)

Fortunately, Hough was able to talk to Oakley after the show and tell the former athlete that his dancing genuinely made him happy. “He came ready to do the show,” the new judge says. “I always appreciate that.”

While Baskin and Pashkov got the good news that they’re making it to Week 3, Hough is celebrating his own joy – the two-time Emmy-winner and six-time Mirror Ball champion has signed an overall deal to host and develop specials and entertainment programming for the alphabet network.

“There are already a few projects that are coming up,” he teases. “I felt like it was a right fit with ABC and Disney for things we have in mind.”

Emma Slater Charles Oakley DWTS 2020

(ABC/Eric McCandless)

What does this mean for Hough’s other dance series, World of Dance on NBC? “All the conversations we’ve had have been supportive and collaborative,” he says, adding, “I haven’t heard anything from [World of Dance] yet. Right now, we’re focused on new adventures.”

Hough’s in no rush for couples to leave the competition, but he is hoping there will soon be more air time for him to go into detailed critiques that will ideally help couples deliver more entertaining routines.

“There are definitely moments where I’d love to say, ‘Choreographically, try this approach,’” Hough says. “Sometimes, that will be said off-screen [but] I genuinely want to help people improve.”

TV Insider asked Hough if he will be stepping away from the judges table to hit the dance floor himself this season. “Yes, there is a plan [for me] to dance,” he reveals. “We’re trying to work it out, figure it out. Obviously, there are limitations [due to COVID], but I enjoy limitations. They force you to be creative. It’ll be further along [into the season]…when there’s time.”

While Hough doesn’t bring judge Len Goodman’s endearing grumpiness to his role as the center judge, he does hope that the two have some things in common. “I think that [like Len] I’m fair and honest,” Hough says. “I have decades in ballroom and Latin [dancing], but I also have to be mindful of not using [too technical] terms.”

DWTS Season 29 Episode 2

(ABC/Eric McCandless)

Which characters might we see in Disney Week? “I feel like it’s all been covered [over the seasons],” he muses. “I’m trying to think of some characters that haven’t been done yet. I’m looking forward to seeing some new characters.”

The performer won’t be surprised if Baskin and Pashkov go with another feline-theme given the Tiger King star’s first two songs were Eye of the Tiger and What’s New Pussycat? “You guys want to put money on Lion King?” he grins. “Should we put some bets down?”

Dancing With the Stars, Mondays, 8/7c, ABC