Tom Bergeron: From Boston to Dancing with the Stars

Bruno enrages Chaz by calling him an Ewok and cute little penguin. Maks and Len get into it over playing favorites. Nancy Grace complains that her partner is pushing too hard. And amidst this dramedy on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars is Tom Bergeron, who maintains a cool head and a quick wit.

Sometime back in the late 80’s, it was a big deal when comic legend Carl Reiner came to Boston and made a guest appearance on WBZ-TV’s People are Talking with then-host Tom Bergeron. From The Dick Van Dyke Show to The Princess Bride, we were all huge fans of Reiner’s work — and were were all star-struck. But it was an even bigger deal when this master of comedy predicted that the host of the show, my good pal Tom Bergeron, would “make it” in Hollywood. I was pretty impressed. And I think a seed was planted that day.

When it comes to a match-up between live TV’s top talent show hosts, I give Tom Bergeron a perfect 10. Of course, I’m a tad biased, having worked with Bergeron, but his career speaks for itself.

Dancing with the Stars, once just a little summer replacement show, has grown into a mega-hit for ABC. It has also been a perfect showcase for Bergeron’s blend of talents. Of course Cat Deely, Nick Cannon, and Ryan Seacrest all do perfectly fine jobs of hosting their shows, especially if you are going for hip and red-carpet ready. But Seacrest is so overexposed on the airwaves that I’m beginning to have the same reaction when I hear his voice that Kramer used to have on Seinfeld when he’d hear Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight: turn and run from the room.

Bergeron has proven again and again that he has what so many of the glib-and-glam hosts lack. He has an everyman accessibility along with a brilliant comic’s brain that moves at the speed of light. As he mentions in his book I’m Hosting as Fast as I Can, he meditates every day to get centered and focused. And it obviously pays off.

On season 12, dancing pro Karina Smirnoff, wearing a frizzed-out wig as part of her costume, became angry after a judge’s snide remark about her performance. Bergeron broke the tension by mentioning that the Bert Lahr estate would like to thank her for donating her wig. On Season 2, when contestant Nick Lachey promised the judges he would ramp up his sex appeal for the next round by wearing nothing but a small leaf, Bergeron — without missing a beat — ad-libbed that it was a brave man who would admit that wearing a tiny leaf “would get the job done.” This season, when grouchy Len Goodman said he was feeling really cranky about something, Bergeron smoothly interjected: “Is it your age?”

I have been backstage with Bergeron and have seen him in action. He is father confessor to both stars and contestants who wander into his dressing room and vent. He is also the head cheerleader for contestants who need a boost. I’m sure Chaz Bono and other aggrieved stars have given him an earful.

Recently, Bergeron spent time on the red carpet — but not to promote himself. He was being honored at Denim and Diamonds, a fundraiser for ACT Today!, a foundation that offers care and treatment for autism. “I would do anything for kids” he said at the event. He has hosted the event for the past six years to help out his longtime friend from WBZ-TV, Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson, the former executive producer of Evening Magazine and now the executive director of Act Today!

When I saw him at the benefit, we chatted about Boston and mutual friends. I also asked him about all the complaints that Dancing with the Stars has turned into a popularity contest. “It’s always been that way,” he said with a grin.

In real life, offstage, Bergeron is loyal friend, a kind and generous man, and a prodigious fundraiser for good causes. It’s good to know that, sometimes, nice guys really do finish first.