CMAs Make Hosting Change: Brad Paisley Exits, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire Are In

Carrie Underwood returns as co-host of the Nov. 13 show, which has a new director in longtime VMAs helmer Alex Rudzinski.

Carrie Underwood, left, and Reba McEntire
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The CMA Awards have had the most consistent hosting situation of any music awards show in television, but 11 years after installing Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood as the reliable faces of the telecast, even ABC and the Country Music Association have decided it’s time for a switch. Come Nov. 13, Underwood will return for year 12, but Paisley is exiting, to be replaced in 2019 by the combination of Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire as “special guest hosts” alongside Underwood.

The move is surprising not least of all because McEntire has been a longtime on-again, off-again host of the rival Academy of Country Music Awards, going back to 1986. McEntire most recently hosted the ACMs out of Las Vegas this past April, for the second year in a row — a role she presumably won’t be stepping back into in 2020, unless the CMAs and ACMs are much more into sharing than previously imagined.

“As a fan of all 3 of these amazing women, I can’t wait to watch,” wrote Paisley, retweeting the CMAs’ announcement Monday.

For ABC and the CMAs, the change serves a couple of important functions. For one thing, it puts the world on notice that the Country Music Association means to be seen as being as proactively pro-women as the country radio format notably is not.

And, for another, it recognizes the need to shake things up after last year’s distressing ratings dive. While nearly all traditional TV awards shows have been down on a year-to-year basis, the traditionally blockbuster CMAs took a particularly big hit in 2018, with overnight ratings having the telecast down 34% in the demo and 29% in total viewers from 2017, reaching an all-time low.

The show also has a new director, Alex Rudzinski — a veteran of the MTV Video Music Awards, as well as the on-set director of recent live productions of “Rent” and “Hairspray” — taking over for longtime helmer Paul Miller.

Paisley and Underwood perfected their comic timing over 11 years on the air, in TV’s only reliable annual awards monologue (or duo-logue), which always involved some musical parody as well as banter. Paisley remains one of the most respected figures in modern country, as well as one of its sharper wits, but the fact that his last No. 1 at country radio was five years ago may have played into the decision to try something different.

Whether McEntire and Parton will play as big a role as co-hosts as Paisley did over the last 11 years, or whether they’re viewed as permanent additions, remains to be seen; in the announcement that went out Monday, their official “guest” status was reflected in photos slightly smaller than Underwood’s. A statement from the Country Music Association’s CEO, Sarah Trahern, suggested this might be a women-celebrating one-off.

“It’s an incredible honor to welcome Carrie, Reba and Dolly to the CMA Awards stage this year,” said Trahern. “In addition to awarding the year’s best and brightest in the genre, the 53rd Annual CMA Awards will celebrate the legacy of women within country music, and we couldn’t think of a more dynamic group of women to host the show.”

Robert Deaton returns as executive producer and David Wild is back as head writer for the show, to be broadcast Nov. 13 at 8 p.m ET/PT from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.

Top nominations will be announced on “Good Morning America” August 28.