Dancing With the Stars Fires Orchestra: “It Will Kill the Show,” Says Union

Harold Wheeler Band
Dancing With the Stars has fired its longtime orchestra after 17 seasons -- and the American Federation of Musicians responded Monday, Feb. 3 saying "It will kill the show." ABC/CAROL KAELSON

Dismantling the orchestra? After 17 seasons of live music on Dancing With the Stars, ABC's hit reality series has fired its longtime music director Harold Wheeler — and the 28 members of his live backing band, the show confirmed Monday, Feb. 3.

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"Since season one, Harold and his band have performed brilliant music in our ballroom for our dancers and the American viewers at home," BBC Worldwide and ABC said in a joint statement. "We are grateful to him and his band for their amazing work and years of collaboration. We wish him the best of luck."

But the union representing the orchestra is not happy.

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American Federation of Musicians' president Ray Hair slammed ABC on Monday for firing 70-year-old Wheeler and the members of the Harold Wheeler Orchestra and Singers: "People who love Dancing With the Stars also love the superb performances of the orchestra because it is such an integral part of the show," Hair said Monday. "The tight, elaborate musical productions that catapulted the show into the top 10 in 17 countries can't be duplicated by recordings and a small combo. Viewers, whether they are young or old, will reject that as artistic fraud."

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The release issued by the AFM also noted that DWTS producers say the band will be replaced with sound recordings and a "small electric band" to "attract a younger demographic." The new band, according to The Hollywood Reporter, will be selected by Wheeler's replacement. 

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"It's not like ABC and Disney don’t have any money and can't afford an orchestra. It's about the insatiable thirst for profits at the expense of music, art, and those who create it," continued Hair. "Firing the band, using recordings, and hiring fewer musicians won't boost ratings. It will kill the show."

Back in September, THR spoke with Dancing's executive producer Conrad Green on the show's new use of pre-recorded music: "We feel that there are some types of music and types of songs, a lot of modern music particularly, is so produced that it's impossible for an 18-piece band to replicate that sound," Green said. "You get to a point where you're forcing a band to try and do sound that they just literally can't pull off."

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