She’s garnered 27 Daytime Emmy nominations, including ones for Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Talk Show Host, and has won three. During Leeza’s run, Gibbons’ impact on television was recognized with one of Hollywood’s highest honors: a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Besides being known as a talk show host and entertainment reporter, Gibbons currently has her own PBS program My Generation, a line of beauty products, and is the head of Leeza Gibbons Enterprises, in which she works on entrepreneurial, charitable and advocacy endeavors. “My mission statement,” she says, “is to add value and enhance the lives of women and their families.”
Now, along with the 2004 Apprentice winner and motivational speaker, Bill Rancic, Gibbons will host the daily syndicated newsmagazine America Now.
I caught up with Gibbons by phone to talk with her about her career, her new show, and her busy, productive life.
You were involved in entertainment news for many years. How did that type of reporting differ from your subsequent projects? Did you find it more stressful dealing with the whole ‘cult of celebrity’ than what you’re doing now?
I found it exciting and I found it challenging. Sometimes I found it confounding. I didn’t really experience it as stress. I think I have to attribute that to my mom, who would just say, “Show up, do your best, and then let go of the rest.”
I was very aware during that time that I was in kind of a unique place in our pop culture. It was when MTV started and Entertainment Tonight started. Those were two touchstones that really changed the way we perceive and receive celebrity, and it was really a cool destination. For me, I’m a storyteller. And if the stories are about celebrities and the entertainment business or about help advocacy or about finding solutions for your life, it’s all the same thing for me. I really just like to be the conduit through which these stories find a way out to the marketplace.
You don’t sound jaded at all, which is refreshing. What is it like being as well-known as those you’ve interviewed?
I think that would be a pretty big overstatement. I’ve been very fortunate to have built a career at a time when it was much easier to be a brand than it is now. I always felt that any recognition I got was really just a “halo effect”. It didn’t belong to me. It was really just residual and I was very happy to try to wear it nicely. It’s been a lovely advantage. I can’t really say there’s been any downside to it at all.
Your co-host Bill Rancic was the 2004 winner of The Apprentice. How did your association with him come about?
Yeah, [he was] the original Apprentice. And then, of course, he has a reality show with his wife: Julianne and Bill on The Style Network.
He did America Now once a week this last year, and when Raycom decided they wanted to take it to five nights a week, they approached me. I was familiar with Bill and I’d already actually interviewed him for Hollywood Confidential, my radio show. So I knew I liked him and I knew he was smart. I looked at what they’d been doing and it was just a perfect fit: right show, right time, right chemistry with us.
Bill and I are both really busy. He’s out on the road hundreds of days a year with his speaking. So we share a common denominator of being inspired by the opportunity to help empower people. He speaks about it, I speak about it. It’s a thread that runs through both of us. So that’s cool. He’s kind of like the kid brother to me. We just have a great time. Both of us are doing interview series for the show with similar themes too.
I’m out there interviewing people about how they made it. I believe that success leaves clues and I want to share that with our audience. Whether you’ve had success in the spiritual world, whether you have the Mother Teresa kind of success or the Warren Buffett kind of success, I want to be able to share what those touchstones are like.
Will America Now be open to interaction from the audience and other outside sources?
Yes. We get contributors from all over the country. The reporters from the Raycom stations news division will be contributing stories. So it’s like having The A-Team of correspondents.
Whether the topic is identity theft or brat-proofing your kid, we will give you the easy, digestible highlights and then the idea is to go to the web for more. We want to be very aware that the onus is on us to provide this rich resource. I think that people are overwhelmed and inundated with information. We’re trying to really simplify it, highlight it, and make it so it’s easy to put to use in your life right away.
Talk about interaction: I’m doing a series of celebrity inspired home-grown beauty tips. I’ve had twenty-five years on the red carpet and I’ve interviewed lots of stars and worked around a lot of professionals and I’ve loved learning what they do to make themselves look good and be ready for their lives. I’m using ingredients from your pantry, things that you may have heard about that work. I’ve been soliciting those kinds of tips online and been getting a lot of really great ones from my Facebook that, when the show premieres, we’ll be able to funnel all that into it. I think there’s lots of places for people to get engaged and participate. That’s really the way we’ll know that it’s working.
It used to be if you wanted to get viewer interaction, you’d have to take your microphone out to the street.
The great thing is the parallel courses of reality and technology have broken down the last vestiges of any barrier out there. So now we have really intimate relationships that happen in real time with viewers and with readers and with people who visit our social media. I think that this is such a plus for a show like ours. If there’s a scam going on somewhere, we’ll get to find out about it and investigate it and get out the facts to you in a very short period of time.
America Now is going to deal more with real life issues than the tinsel and glitz of celebrity. Was there a conscious effort on your part to change your focus?
When I left my talk show I went to Extra as the host and managing editor. It was during that time my mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease kind of interrupted my life track. So a lot of my energy and focus went to being a support for my family and trying to figure out how to be there for my mom.
During the course of that I was struggling and our family was overwhelmed and we were depleted in every sense of the word: emotionally and spiritually and financially and physically. We were just falling apart. So I realized if it was happening with us it was probably happening with other people.
Early in the process my mother said to me, “You’ve been a storyteller, honey, and now you just need to tell the story.” So I found a way to take the inspiration of my mother and create this psycho-social free support service. I did that simultaneously with Hollywood Confidential, which I continued for twenty-five years. And I also continued with my Sheer Cover beauty products. This was such great timing. Because of Sheer Cover and because the infomercial has been so successful over the years, I was able to walk away from my day to day television job and really focus on building this non-profit [organization].
I wanted to spend at least two years putting in the sweat equity, building a relationship, learning the things I needed to learn to really be of service. The two years turned into more like five years. Now I have all these locations all across the country and I’ve been able to take an active role in advocacy, and I’m so blessed for that.
It’s not like I shut the door on celebrity. I have no disdain at all for the entertainment business. I have only gratitude. I now get to interview stars about the things that really affect them in their real lives. I do a show on PBS called My Generation. We interview a lot of celebrities about living without limits, about turning points in their lives, about health crises that they’ve navigated successfully and what they can teach others about giving back. So I still get to talk to quite a lot of celebrities. It’s just not about promoting their latest project.
The test lab portion of America Now could turn out to be quite controversial. What sort of products will you be putting to the test?
We are testing all kinds of things: from Shake Weight to scanners at grocery stores to hand sanitizers. If it’s in the world of consumer goods or health or beauty, those are the things you see all the time and you’re wondering, “Does that really work?” I think it’s one of the coolest segments that we have. I think it can be quite controversial. A lot of those things come from viewers, too, who want to know.
Can viewers look forward to seeing some special guests on the show?
Most of our stories come from newsmakers of the moment or from experts who emerge from a particular field of interest. Bill and I are interviewing people who have created success in their lives. We’re trying to make sure the people that we interview offer deliverables for our viewers.
He’s done some stuff with people like Gunnar Peterson and people in the fitness world. I’m doing a whole series of Top Chef short cuts. I just did an interview with Susan Feniger from Border Grill, Street, Too Hot Tamales, and the Top Chef shows. We’re wanting to take people who have a name and find out what they can show us.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about America Now?
I think that we live in a time where we’re expected to be our own experts about everything. Because there’s so much information available, we feel we need to know how to repair our cars ourselves or file our taxes. We need to know how to housebreak the dog. We need to know how to protect our kids from cyber-creeps. There’s so much information that I think the tendency is just to get overwhelmed and bury our heads in the sand.
What I love about the show is it is designed to break through that glut of information and give you some access points and some hooks for you to dig deeper into topics that are most relevant to you. I really hope we have success with it because I think it’s entertaining, it really is. There are great stories. There’s a lot of variety. It moves fast and we have great reporters from all over the country.
I think the viewers are always right and I think the pendulum sometimes swings so far that we look at things and go what? But it always comes back to offering people something they want.