You hear a lot of weather metaphors when you ask people about Linda Bell Blue, executive producer of Entertainment Tonight and The Insider. “She truly is a force of nature,” says Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. “I'm glad she's siding with the good guys.”
“You cannot help but be struck by her dynamic personality and energy when you meet her,” says Mary Hart, Entertainment Tonight's longtime anchor. “She's like a tornado coming into the room—she's full of ideas and enthusiasm.”
“I used to call her the blonde tornado,” adds Janet Annino, executive producer of Rachael Ray, a former producer on ET and one of Bell Blue's closest friends. “She would come into the newsroom with this big sweep of energy. Those TV shows are like her kids.”
Bell Blue's devotion to her craft started when she was in high school in Springfield, Mo. “I was a teenager that would pull up a chair at 6:30 p.m. when the evening news would come on,” she says. “I would sit with my chair two feet away from the television.”
She was so motivated that she graduated from the University of Missouri one year early, having started college courses while still attending high school in her hometown of Springfield, Mo.
Mizzou, as the university is affectionately known, runs an NBC-affiliated station, so Bell Blue got a head start on experience. And while she had an anchorwoman's blonde good looks, she “always wanted to be the one painting the picture, the one putting the puzzle together behind the scenes. So many other people wanted to be an anchor, but that never appealed to me.”
After graduating, Bell Blue went to Miami, currently the No. 16 market, where she was a writer at WCKT for a year. Before long she moved to Detroit, market No. 11, to produce the evening news. “Detroit is a big news town and a challenging place to work,” she says. “The labor unions are strong there because of the auto industry, and there's a lot of underworld crime.”
Bell Blue's ambition, however, was far bigger than Detroit. After a year, she landed at KPIX San Francisco, market No. 5. From there, she went on to KRON, then an NBC affiliate, and in 1982—at age 26—she was named executive producer of news at KCBS Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest market. While at KCBS, Bell Blue won Emmys for live coverage of breaking news and landed an exclusive interview with Charles Manson.
“At that time he could do only four interviews a year, and he received about 250 requests every three months. So I sent him a telegram,” she says. “He walked around the prison with that telegram in his pocket for weeks. When the prison's information officer sat down with him and said here's the stack of people who want do an interview with you, he said 'I want to do an interview with that Bell chick.' The telegram was different and it got his attention.”
From there, she became executive producer of Paramount's Hard Copy, where she worked for six years. During her tenure at the now-defunct syndicated newsmagazine, Time named it one of its top 10 shows.
In 1995, ET needed an executive producer. Top brass turned to Bell Blue, who already had been impressing them for years. “[ET is] the show of record and it has such a long, rich history,” she says. “It took me about a day to decide it was what I should be doing.”
Bell Blue covers the Oscars, movie premieres and celebrity weddings with the same journalistic ambition she has brought to all of her endeavors. Her commitment to work is second to none: She rises each day at 4:30 a.m., runs a conference call at 5:15 a.m. and arrives at work by 6 a.m. She receives ratings no matter where she is, and she's getting ready to launch ET and The Insider in high-definition. Bell Blue also plans to turn ET into a 24/7 online newsgathering operation through its partnership with online portal MSN.
Those who know her best say her instinct is laser-focused on what women want to watch, which serves her well as the producer of TV's top entertainment magazine. “What I love about Linda is that she never stops studying the viewer,” says Terry Wood, president of creative and development for CBS Television Distribution. “She never stops wondering what they are thinking, and she never strays from being in tune with them.”
But ultimately, Bell Blue thrives on the high of breaking news. “People who have worked with me over the years know that I like the chaos of it,” she says. “I like to create chaos when it doesn't exist to keep people's engines going.”
Perhaps the person who knows that best is Steve Blue, Bell Blue's husband of 23 years. She first met Blue in 1979 when she paid an informational visit to KPIX, where he was a director, during a vacation to San Francisco. Unsurprisingly, the quintessential producer fell in love with the masterful way Blue directed the news. “I watched this man direct and it just took my breath away. When you are a producer, you often hand the live show over to the director. With Steve, it was always so smooth.”
Bell Blue was hired as KPIX's evening news producer, and she immediately brought her brand of chaos to the station. “She drove me insane because she loved to change the show,” Blue jokes. “We used to laugh in the control room and wait for her to change the show during the open.”
After knowing his wife for more than 28 years and being married to her for 23, Blue knows exactly what makes his wife excellent at what she does: “The essence of producing a great newscast is the rhythm of it. It's how all the elements tie together. She is always tinkering with it. She's never satisfied with it until it's exactly how she sees it in her mind.”
And although he's busy himself as senior VP of production and operations for the Comcast Entertainment Group, Blue still gets up early every day to make his wife's iced tea and scan the wires for her. After 14 years of early mornings and most weekends spent covering celebrities at their best and worst, Bell Blue still says: “I know I lead a very special life.”
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