Graceful Exit After A Lifetime of Tonights

Ending a 30-year run on her iconic show, Mary Hart talks highlights, next moves and going out on top
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When Mary Hart announced last August that this would be her last season hosting CBS Television Distribution’s iconic entertainment magazine, Entertainment Tonight, it seemed like we still had plenty of time to spend with her. It feels like just last week—not January—that we were celebrating her Brandon Tartikoff Award with her at NATPE in Miami. But time flew, as it tends to do, and Hart’s nearly 30-year run in front of the camera at TV’s longestrunning magazine comes to a close on May 20. The gracious blonde anchor took some time to share parting thoughts with B&C Contributing Editor Paige Albiniak. The following is an edited transcript.

How are you feeling?

As it’s getting closer, it’s certainly getting more stressful. I’m just trying to get everything in—all the wonderful love, camaraderie, hugs and emotions. It’s a very bittersweet time for all the right reasons.

You just got back from covering the royal wedding, which will be the last big event you cover as host of Entertainment Tonight. How was that?

First of all, on a very bright note, when Linda Bell Blue [ET executive producer] and I heard the news of the royal engagement, we were just crossing our fingers that they would marry before I had to say good-bye. We both knew it would be the biggest event since Princess Diana’s death.

It’s the perfect way to end my career at ET. It was heart-warming, thrilling to be there, and a completely unique experience. It was very much one of the good stories in covering the entertainment industry.

Obviously the media covers the royals as if they were part of the entertainment industry, but they really aren’t. Why is it appropriate for ET and all of the other celebrity magazine shows to cover the wedding?

Entertainment permeates every type of news. You aren’t going to turn on a news show without a celebrity element. The wedding certainly garnered great ratings for everyone, which is why I was shoulderto- shoulder with people like Diane Sawyer and Piers Morgan and all of the biggest names in the American news business.

One of the really special things I did was sit with Barbara Walters inside Kensington Palace and interview her for ET. She had once had lunch with Princess Diana inside the private quarters at Kensington Palace. For her to sit there and reminisce about it was just incredible. Just the week before, I had shot a taping for The View [which aired May 11] and she interviewed me about leaving ET.

Something else that was special was having the vantage point of sitting there at Buckingham Palace. When we got the first sighting of Princes William and Harry coming through the gates in their glassencased coach, the roar of the crowd was deafening. Then the Queen came out and she was in that beautiful yellow. Of course watching the entire ceremony was amazing, and then when William and Kate returned in their carriage it was just like we were living the fairy tale ourselves. There was so much exuberance in the air.

It was our biggest undertaking ever, and our staff worked around the clock because of the time difference. We took more people on that trip than we’ve taken anywhere else.

That might have been ET’s biggest undertaking ever, but ET has had its share of huge endeavors over the years, and so have you. What are some of your most special memories over your almost 30 years at ET?

Flying with the Blue Angels, which happened right down here at Camp Pendleton. Running with the Olympic Torch when the games were in Los Angeles in 1984. Covering stories for ET from the back of my own motorcycle. And interviewing Paul McCartney. I first met Paul McCartney when I was 12 years old in Sweden and then I interviewed him again two years ago. I told him that story about our first meeting and he was so dear about it. Then we took the most incredible journey down memory lane. What struck me in talking to Sir Paul is that he couldn’t be more humble, more down to earth, and more willing to talk about the first time he met John Lennon, and how they didn’t like each other at first. He was so open in taking me through it all. It was one of the highlights of my career.

Your last day at ET is Friday, May 20. What’s next for you?

I’m a news junkie, so I will follow everything probably even more closely than I have in the past. I’m an avid newspaper reader. I love to read the newspapers in the morning, from The Wall Street Journal to the L.A. Times, New York Times and USA Today.

I am convinced [I’m] doing the right thing by taking some time, despite Barbara [Walters] telling me to go right on through to the next thing. Barbara’s advice was to keep working, but I am more convinced than ever that I need to step away and see what’s out there. I am not retiring, I do want to emphasize that. Barbara herself is an inspiration to and motivation for all of us to just keep going.

Do you know how they are going to celebrate your last week on the show?

It has been so crazy here that we have not had a chance to look beyond the end of May sweeps and really beyond getting my last show done. Linda has lovingly put an awful lot of effort into keeping things from me. She just says, “Mary, I’ve got it under control, you are in for some surprises, trust me.” I can’t even begin to imagine what’s in store.

Do you have any parting words of wisdom for your team at ET?

No, they’ve got it down, but I would like to say that coming from local television in Sioux Falls, S.D., I have always appreciated the support that we’ve gotten from our local station people, whether that’s general managers, programming directors, or sales teams. That’s a very important and special shout-out for me always. They are the ones who made this show happen. Had we not been able to keep our station lineup the way it was, we never would have maintained our No. 1 position for all of these years. To them I say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

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