On Sunday at 6 p.m. on KNBC, Mary Hart will join the fold of broadcast journalists who have jumped on the nighttime bandwagon with her first special, “Mary Hart Presents: Love in the Public Eye.” The one-hour program examines the struggles public couples endure to maintain private relationships. The dynamic duos who talk include President and Mrs. George Bush, Vice President and Mrs. Dan Quayle, Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, and Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones.
Hart herself is no stranger to the limelight. From high school English teacher, to Miss South Dakota, to talk show host, the life of the 37-year-old “Entertainment Tonight” co-host is an open book. The late Malcolm Forbes placed her legs-which were insured for $1 million as a publicity gimmick-from the knees down on the cover of the first edition of his new Egg magazine. Daniel Cerone interviewed Hart about her new special and her new place in television.
Why did you decide to do a nighttime special?
Paramount and I negotiated a new contract last April for 2 1/2 years. The specials were part of my expanded duties for the expanded contract. I’ll keep hosting “Entertainment Tonight,” but I’ll also do two specials a year. They came about because Paramount felt it was time to expand on what I was doing ithin the Paramount world.
I had expressed an idea to come up with an evening program. I think people have shown an interest in good reality-based shows, particularly celebrity oriented shows. It was completely up to me and my creative team to develop the concept.
What is the concept for “Mary Hart Presents: Love in the Public Eye”?
The idea started with me and my husband, Burt Sugarman. We’ve been married for about a year now. We wondered: “How do you keep a semblance of normalcy in your personal life and your relationships, when you’re constantly being watched and written about? How do you stay immune to it all? Or do you?”
So far, it hasn’t been too difficult for me and Burt to conduct our relationship privately because we work together. He was in the entertainment business for years and helped executive produce this show. I couldn’t find a better partner to work with-both personally and professionally. That’s been our saving grace.
Why are people so fascinated by celebrities?
We have our politicians to scrutinize and examine, but we don’t have the kind of royalty that some countries have. We all need our heroes. And in America, entertainers are larger than life, and they become heroes for many people. We vicariously live out fantasy lives through them. It comes down to that basic desire to say, “Look how good somebody else has it.” Or during rough times to say, “Look how bad they have it.” Either way, you can compare yourself and indulge in a little self-pity or self-satisfaction.
When we started at “Entertainment Tonight,” for the first three or four years, we were all a little worried that people would finally have their fill of celebrity news and interviews. But we just came off our highest ratings period ever.
There are more celebrity segments on the network nightly news programs than ever before. And the morning shows have increased their celebrity coverage dramatically. It’s a phenomenon that has grown and grown.
Your celebrity stature seems to be growing day by day. Did you know that Malcolm Forbes was going to use your legs on the cover of his new Egg magazine?
They wouldn’t have done that without my permission. Malcolm called me himself and explained the concept of the magazine to me, that it was a new pop culture magazine with a sense of humor-a fun sense of humor, not negative like Spy magazine.
What he told me was that my legs have become a symbol of pop culture in America. I’ve been asked so many times for photos of my legs, and I always refused. But this was the first time it sounded like an intriguing and fun idea. They promised me that it wouldn’t be a cruel story, and they were true to their word.
Celebrity interviews are generally considered soft news. Do you receive criticism for being a soft news reporter?
I work in a soft news environment. I have not tried-and I don’t feel a burning need-to prove that I can do harder edged interviews. I don’t feel the least bit defensive about it. I come from a talk show background. I developed and produced my own talk shows in South Dakota, Iowa and Oklahoma City before coming to Los Angeles to “PM Magazine.”
No news about entertainment television is ever going to be considered as hard news. I sat for years listening to people call “Entertainment Tonight” gossipy. That doesn’t bother me. When people think about Hollywood, the very name becomes almost synonymous with gossip. That’s OK by me. With this new show, we hope it will be entertaining, and somewhat enlightening also.
You talked to some public figures who rarely grant personal interviews. Why did they agree to be on your show?
I hope it’s because they’re comfortable talking with me. I’ve spent a number of years talking about them on “Entertainment Tonight.” I think there’s a comfort level and a trust that has built up.
I do my homework. I think I’m a good listener. And I try to make sure that I’m nice in my approach. I can ask tough questions, but there’s a difference in doing it in a way that can be perceived as mean or digging, as a opposed to a way of doing it nicely. I want people to go away with the feeling that they enjoyed doing the interview with me.
How did you assemble the guests for your special?
I made a lot of phone calls. First, I came up with a list of people I wanted to talk to. I didn’t want to make a special about just movie stars or TV stars or rock stars. I wanted to go beyond the world of entertainment.
I was curious about the Quayles ever since they first began campaigning together for the vice presidency. This is their first sit-down interview together in their home. I was very flattered that they did it. I think you will see a very interesting interview. They hit the issue of negative publicity head-on. They’re charming and strong as a couple. But they have a sense of humor about the vice president’s negative image.