Can 'DWTS' survive the loss of judge Julianne Hough?

Julianne Hough, who recently starred in Fox's musical 'Grease: Live,' is reportedly departing the ABC reality competition. 'Dancing' is still a ratings hit for the network but its viewership is much stronger with older viewers.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Julianne Hough will no longer serve as a judge on the reality competition 'Dancing With the Stars.'

“Dancing With the Stars” judge Julianne Hough is reportedly departing the show. 

Hough had performed as a professional dancer on the reality TV competition and came aboard as a judge in 2014.

She has served as a judge alongside Bruno Tolioni and Carrie Ann Inaba.

The actress also recently appeared in the lead role of Sandy in Fox’s musical “Grease: Live,” which was a critical hit and also did well in the ratings. The production was Fox’s first recent attempt at the genre following NBC’s success with such productions as “The Sound of Music Live!” and “The Wiz Live!”

Hough has also appeared in such films as “Curve,” “Safe Haven,” and “Footloose.” From what the actress has said about her departure, it sounds like Hough is planning to focus on other projects.

"I will miss being on the panel for Season 22, but have a lot of exciting stuff coming that I look forward to sharing," she told People.

“Dancing” is set to debut its 22nd season this March. The program usually airs two seasons a year, one in the fall and one in the spring.

The reality competition, which has celebrities pair up with dancers, debuted on ABC in 2005 and has been a hit for the network. 

It’s still doing well in the ratings but that success seems to skew toward a certain audience. In the ratings for overall viewers for the 2014-2015 TV season, “Dancing” comes in at No. 9 for the year. When it’s judged by its amount of viewers who are 18-49, however, the show’s performance drops steeply, with the program ranking at No. 41.

Hollywood Reporter writer Michael O’Connell wrote in 2014, “’Dancing’ is still a force in total viewers… but those viewers are now 62.1 years old, making it the grayest broadcast show not on CBS,” while Washington Post writer Emily Yahr wrote of music acts appearing on the show, “’DWTS’ viewers skew on the older side, so it’s important for these more modern singers to appeal themselves to the crowd early on.” 

In 2014, those behind the program revealed that they would be making some changes to attempt to bring younger viewers to the show. "The practical reality is that we have to keep engaging with a younger audience as well as our substantial older one," executive producer Conrad Green told the Hollywood Reporter at the time. 

Those behind "Dancing" brought on Erin Andrews, familiar to ESPN viewers, as host (she's still there) and announced they would be focusing on more modern music. When Hough came on as a judge, she was by far the youngest on the panel – perhaps putting her on as a judge was an attempt to bring in younger viewers as well. 

Yet "Dancing" still ranked No. 41 in the 2014-2015 TV season ratings among viewers 18-49, actually below where it ranked in the 2013-2014 TV season.

ABC most likely won’t cancel a hit. But younger viewers are always valued in the broadcast world, where shows need to prove to advertisers that they can attract a young demographic.

And for the 2014-2015 TV season, ABC ranked third among the four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) for viewers 18-49. 

Their original content attracted young viewers, though – as noted by Deadline writer Dominic Patten, “Remove sports from the equation and ABC is top among the Big 4 demowise,” referring to the 18-49 viewer demographic. 

Some of the ABC original scripted shows that ranked highest with those viewers for the 2014-2015 TV season include "Modern Family," "Scandal," and "How to Get Away with Murder."

A replacement for Hough hasn't yet been discussed, including whether ABC would bring on another younger judge like the actress. Perhaps ABC is simply deciding to value the audience it has.

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