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JOHN TESH AND LEEZA GIBBONS : That’s Twice the Entertainment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Tesh and Leeza Gibbons, the telegenic hosts of the weekend edition of “Entertainment Tonight"--Tesh also anchors the daily edition--are throwing their hats into the daily talk-show ring. Their new series “John & Leeza From Hollywood,” premieres Monday on NBC. Produced by Paramount Domestic Television, “John and Leeza” is being touted as “a fresh, fun and lively” hourlong show featuring celebrity guests and “entertaining” talk.

Tesh, an Emmy-winning composer who wrote the original theme for the 1992 Summer Olympics, has penned the theme song for “John & Leeza.”

Paramount and NBC have been fine-tuning the series before it hits the airwaves by filming a month’s worth of test shows. Times Staff Writer Susan King caught up with the busy hosts in Gibbon’s dressing room at the “John & Leeza” set at Hollywood’s Paramount Studios.

How do you find the time to do both shows?

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Leeza Gibbons: Well, what John doesn’t tell you is that he mainlines ginseng and bee pollen.

John Tesh: I don’t have two infants at home. (Gibbons is the mother of two young children). That’s a big difference. I have an 11-year-old stepson. All I have to do is play catch, learn Nintendo and make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich in 12 seconds.

LG: It’s difficult. It’s a time crunch. But when you look at it, we don’t spend any more time at our jobs than, say, a bank teller or a grocery store checker.

JT: It’s just you see what we do.

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LG: The drama element is higher. I think we were both at the point we were so ready for it psychologically. We made it work for ourselves individually. It’s easy for me to say this because we are not on the air yet, but we are working our real schedule now.

How did the series come about?

LG: I think Paramount realized a long time ago that John and I had a relationship that would work and was working in little 90-second intervals on the hourlong show of “Entertainment Tonight.” So we had a definite relationship. I don’t know how to say which came first, but this hour in daytime was a good time to present a show like this because there was a place for it. It has actually been talked about for some time.

And the show is celebrity driven?

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LG: I think it will be celebrity heavy. But that is not our primary focus. We want this thing to be freewheeling, loose and spontaneous, whereas “Entertainment Tonight” is wonderfully successful as being format driven. We want this to be personality driven and that puts a great responsibility on us. So if it dies an ugly death, I will be sorry I am saying this.

Did you both work on the format?

JT: We spent a lot of time during commercial breaks on the weekend show sort of mapping out what we wanted. So far, what the production staff here has put out there is exactly what we want. Now you have to remember that once the network gets involved and the focus groups get involved there will be a lot of tugging and pulling. But for the test shows anyway, we are having a good time.

LG: It’s so much just sheer joy for us to kind of run free. We have a great gig with “Entertainment Tonight,” but it’s very limiting in terms of where we can go. All bets are off with this.

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JT: We trust each other too, which is great. It’s not like when you work with somebody in a business or a business partner. If you don’t trust them, you are always thinking about what to do to escape losing your butt. I never have that with Leeze.

LG: It’s the ultimate safety net for us to feel like we can go off the edge and the other one will come and save the day.

JT: Or make it worse, which is even better.

LG: I think this would be a hot ticket for an audience person. To be a member of an audience means you never know if you are going to be involved in the show or if we are going to send you out somewhere or if something is going to happen to you.

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What’s it like working with an audience?

JT: She’s great with an audience. My only involvement with the audiences is in giving concerts. People are really genuinely interested in being here. Some of them have never seen a TV show before. I love it because I am a ham at heart anyway. There’s no telling what the two of us are going to do. I am always joking at home because no one has ever seen the side of my face. No one has ever seen me walk before on television. It’s a completely different side of us.

When do the shows tape or will you be doing it live?

LG: It will be in the afternoon for next day’s air, so we can be very topical, fairly timely. I don’t think we will be a headline-chasing kind of show. I don’t think people will look to us for that, but I think they will look for reactions to newsmakers.

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JT: If we tried to go live, and Paramount approached us about doing that, it would be 7 in the morning. The guests would be dead and we wouldn’t have any audiences.

LG: It became a lifestyle question for us. We both have families that are significant to us and our priority was, “What can we do that would be the least disruptive thing for our lives?” This was it. It’s very important that they support what we are doing, so we have tried to make it easy to get them to love the fact that we have this new show.

“John & Leeza From Hollywood” airs weekdays at 10 a.m. on KNBC and noon on KNSD.


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