Entertainment Tonight's Mary Hart didn't know it at the time, but having her new talk show with Regis Philbin cancelled in 1982 was one of the best things to ever happen to her, she told B&C Executive Editor Melissa Grego at NATPE in Miami on Wednesday.
"At the time, neither Regis nor I knew what it would lead to, but it turned out to be the best thing for both of us," said Hart, who on Tuesday night received a Tartikoff Legacy Award. Philbin was a fellow winner this year, making their connection to the late NBC programming chief all the sweeter.
After Hart and Philbin's show was pulled off the air, a new entertainment show called Entertainment Tonight called Hart's agent and asked if they could interview her about the cancellation. She graciously agreed to the interview, "although it was painful." The next day, ET called and asked if she wanted to audition for a job.
Of course, she took them up on that offer. Almost 30 years later, Mary Hart remains the face of ET. In May, she will step down from the program and hand over the reins to Nancy O'Dell.
"I kept thinking that after 10, 15, 20 years, it would be time to try something else," Hart said. "Now we are celebrating 30 years on the air, even though at first every television critic in the country said this would not work, that there was not enough entertainment news to fill a show five nights a week. But it's finally time for me to move on and do something different. It's the right time for me."
ET pioneered a genre, and now there are plenty of access magazines that try to emulate ET. Even news magazines and cable news networks cover entertainment news, said Hart.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it also gives me a great sense of satisfaction," Hart said. "I don't look at our competition as people in other time slots - I look at it as everyone from morning news shows to primetime news magazines. There isn't any news show that doesn't do celebrity coverage."
Asked how she feels about all the new competitors, Hart joked: "I hate them all!" and then quickly added, "no, I actually think it makes us a better show."
Hart said that ET's producers are just devising how the veteran anchor will depart the show but one final event that she's looking forward to covering is the royal wedding in April.
"I am very excited about that - it's such happy news. It's an event that everyone is looking forward to and will have a smile on their face about. I'm thrilled to be going over there to cover it for our viewers."