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Image: Chaz Bono
Susana Bates  /  Reuters
Chaz Bono is going "Dancing" this season, and though some fans are complaining loudly, the controversy is getting people talking about the show.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 9/1/2011 9:19:37 PM ET 2011-09-02T01:19:37

Another season, another "Dancing With the Stars" cast announcement, another group of outraged fans who are never, ever going to watch one of the highest-rated, most popular TV series ever again. And this time they mean it. Just like in past seasons.

Somewhere in the "Dancing" offices, champagne toasts are undoubtedly being made on behalf of Chaz Bono, the source of the most recent controversy.

This is all par for the course for ABC's ballroom competition. Thanks to its loose definition of "star," the reality show about ballroom dancing has managed, in recent seasons, to generate enormous publicity and discussion just by announcing its cast list. Previous years have seen factions rail over who a gay man (Lance Bass) would dance with, and the alleged political implications of including the daughter of a controversial politician (Bristol Palin).

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Pushing buttons
But since Monday's season 13 cast announcement and Wednesday's pro-pairing reveal, the expected lightning rod of having a second gay man in the lineup (Carson Kressley) has almost entirely been eclipsed by the casting of Bono, who is transgender. Bono, the 42-year-old son of Cher and the late Sonny Bono, underwent female-to-male gender transition, and legally changed his gender last year.

"Reality TV producers love pushing our buttons," said Robert Galinsky, founder of the New York Reality TV School. "This is a great button to push."

"Reality TV is doing what a lot of people hate by putting the mirror of ourselves up to us," Galinsky added.

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Buttons are being pushed all over on the network's "DWTS" message board: Telisatelisa wrote that her family has watched the show for 11 seasons, "But sadly we have already watched our last episode…. I chose not to endorse ABC's decision to have Chaz Bono dancing on the show."

Msscpajunk is a four-year viewer who is also tuning out, and said on the message board that the show is becoming "LGBT correct." Yet others such as Mismochy wondered, "Why do you need to explain anything to your children if they never even knew Chaz used to be female?"

'Give Chaz a chance'
Show producers insist that choosing their stars is not a matter of picking the most controversial people out there — they are looking for an interesting story.

"It all started because I thought he was a nice guy," said Deena Katz, senior producer with "DWTS" and the major force behind the scenes when it comes to casting. "I'd met Chaz in life, and he was such a sweet, nice man, and I asked if he'd ever be interested in doing the show."

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The fact that he was transgender didn't seem to be a problem to either Katz or executive producer Conrad Green. "I didn't see Chaz having any more or less controversy than other people on the show," said Green.

"We love to have people you think you know, or people you aren't as familiar with as people on our show so you can see them as real people and make up your mind about them," he said.

He hopes the audience will rise above the unfamiliarity of watching a transgender person. "It's sad if people feel like they don't want to watch the show. But if you've been watching for years, you'll know there are people who have come on the show before that you didn't like, but you came to know. I hope they will give Chaz a chance," he said.

Curiousity
As it turns out, Bono is not the first transgender person to appear on a reality TV show — and is not even the only one on a reality show this season. Isis King appeared on The CW’s "America's Next Top Model" in 2008, and is slated to appear in the upcoming cycle of "ANTM's" all-stars edition. "Top Model's" inclusiveness, along with having Kressley and Bono on "DWTS," makes this a banner season for organizations such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Story: Cher: It took guts for Chaz to do 'Dancing'
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"It underlines the fact that the majority of Americans are moving toward acceptance of gay and transgender people," said Rich Ferraro, GLAAD director of communications. "Americans are expecting to see the diversity of our country represented on TV."

Galinsky is empathetic with audiences who want to tune out: "This is confusing to some people. People get scared when they're confused. But people who say they're disgusted or not going to watch the show — that's absolutely not true. Those are the very people who will watch, because they're curious."

Industry insiders such as Roy Bank, president of television for Merv Griffin agree: "DTWS" will not lose viewers over this. "Someone like Chaz will bring in a larger demographic than if they had just gone straight down the line with singers or actors," said Bank.

The truth, said Bank, is that "Dancing" is already getting exactly what it wants out of casting Bono. "Their motives are transparent: How many people will talk about the new cast? How many people will watch? If people are talking, they've done their job."

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'There's nothing to be afraid of'
Katz understood the audience's reaction. "I get that (Chaz is) transgender and we've never done this before," she said. "He knows this is tough, and there are people who are afraid, but we can show there's nothing to be afraid of."

Ferraro is more interested in the big picture: Exposure breeds familiarity, and with more transgender people appearing on television, there's a chance the ripple effect will make the lives of average transgender people easier. As he noted, in 35 states it's still legal to fire a transgender person solely because they are, in fact, transgender.

"I think once they see Chaz, they're going to understand that we all deserve to live our lives without discrimination," said Ferraro. "This isn't a question about sexual orientation — it's about gender identity."

So what happens if Bono actually goes the distance and wins the mirror ball trophy?

For Katz, that will send a signal. "It will mean you fell in love with this guy and rooted for this guy," she said. "Chaz is just a guy who's trying to dance. And if you can buy into that and vote for him, that's wonderful. And if he wins? Then God bless America."

See a viral TV clip last week? Share it with us!

Will you be watching "Dancing" this season when it kicks off Sept. 19? Tell us on our Facebook page for our TV blog, The Clicker.

Randee Dawn is a freelance writer based in New York, and was born with a remote control in her hand. She is the co-author of “The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: 'Dancing With the Stars' season 13 cast

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  1. The stars of season 13

    The new cast of "Dancing With the Stars" was revealed on Monday, Aug. 29. In the back row, from left: Ron Artest, David Arquette, J.R. Martinez, Rob Kardashian and Chaz Bono. In the front row, from left: Ricki Lake, Kristin Cavallari, Chynna Phillips, Nancy Grace, Hope Solo and Elisabetta Canalis. Carson Kressley is not pictured.

    All 12 couples will dance for the first time on ABC on Monday, Sept. 19. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Get the party started

    "Dancing" hosts Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke greet the new hopefuls on Monday, Aug. 29. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. David Arquette

    Actor David Arquette -- brother to actors Patricia Arquette, Rosanna Arquette, Alexis Arquette and Richmond Arquette -- is best known for his work in the film series "Scream." He is also married to actress Courteney Cox, but the two are currently separated.

    He's paired with pro Kym Johnson, who has won the mirror ball trophy twice in the U.S. version of the show. She was also the pro champ in season 2 of Australia's version. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Ron Artest

    Ron Artest is a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, and is known for being eccentric off the court. (He has filed papers to legally change his name to Metta World Peace.) On the basketball court, he is perhaps best known for the November 2004 Pacers-Pistons fight. Artest, a Pacer at the time, rushed into the stands to confront a fan who threw a drink at him, which led to the biggest player-fan fight to date.

    He is paired with new pro Peta Murgatroyd. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Chaz Bono

    GLBT activist Chaz Bono is the only child of Sonny Bono and Cher. His documentary, "Becoming Chaz," followed his gender transition, and was nominated for three Emmys.

    He's paired with pro Lacey Schwimmer. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Elisabetta Canalis

    Elisabetta Canalis is an Italian actress who has appeared in the film "Deuce Bigalow" and the TV show "Leverage," but she is best known for dating George Clooney for two years.

    She's paired with new pro Val Chmerkovskiy, who is brother to fellow pro Maksim. Val has also previously performed on "DWTS." (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Kristin Cavallari

    Kristin Cavallari found fame with MTV reality programs "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills." She has also appeared on "The Middle" and "CSI: New York." Cavallari was engaged to Chicago Bears player Jay Cutler, but he ended their engagement in July.

    She's paired with pro Mark Ballas, who has won the mirror ball trophy twice. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Nancy Grace

    Former prosecutor Nancy Grace currently hosts "Nancy Grace" on HLN. She is also the author of mystery thrillers "The Eleventh Victim" and its sequel, "Death on the D-List." Grace is married and has twins.

    She is paired with new pro Tristan MacManus. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rob Kardashian

    Rob Kardashian is best known as the brother of Kim, Kourteny and Khloe Kardashian. He appears on several of the family's series of E! shows, including "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and "Khloe and Lamar." He is the second Kardashian to participate in the show. Kim competed in season seven.

    He's paired with pro Cheryl Burke, who has won the mirror ball trophy twice. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Carson Kressley

    Carson Kressley is best known as the fashion guru on the Bravo series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." He is also a New York Times best-selling author, and currently hosts "Carson-Nation" on OWN.

    He's paired with pro Anna Trebunskaya. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Ricki Lake

    Ricki Lake played Tracy Turnblad in the 1988 film "Hairspray." She has since had a long-running daytime talk show ("Ricki Lake," 1992-2004) and hosted a season of VH1's "Charm School." Lake has also made numerous TV appearances.

    She's paired with pro Derek Hough, who is a three-time mirror ball champ. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. J.R. Martinez

    J.R. Martinez plays combat vet Brot Monroe on "All My Children." Prior to acting on the soap opera, Martinez was in the Army. He was deployed to Iraq in March 2003, but less than a month after that, his vehicle hit a landmine. Martinez was trapped, and suffered severe burns. In addition to acting, Martinez is a motivational speaker.

    He's paired with pro Karina Smirnoff. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Chynna Phillips

    Chynna Phillips, the daughter of The Mamas and The Papas' Michelle and John Phillips, is perhaps best known as a member of the '90s pop trio Wilson Phillips, whose debut album sold eight million copies. She has also appeared in several films, including "Caddyshack II" and "Say Anything." She is married to actor Billy Baldwin.

    She's paired with pro Tony Dovolani. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Hope Solo

    Hope Solo is the goalkeeper for the United States women's national soccer team. She was part of the team that went to the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup finals, but the U.S. ultimately lost to Japan on a penalty shoot-out after a 2-2 tie.

    She's paired with pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy. (Craig Sjodin / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Ricki Lake challenges Arquette on 'DWTS'

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