'ET's' $25 million woman

Everyone, it seems, has a soft spot for “Entertainment Tonight” anchor Mary Hart.

She’s led the top syndicated newsmagazine for two decades, becoming one of the highest paid professionals in her field and earning a reputation as a pro who knows the names of every one of the hundreds of staff members at “Entertainment Tonight.” Strangers say she treated them with respect when they approached her. And even her boss, “ET” exec producer Linda Bell Blue, says she’s in awe of the anchor.

“After 20 years, you probably couldn’t blame her if she weren’t the way she is, but she believes the show with the best people wins,” Blue says. “No other woman in syndication has accomplished what she has. She’s a real role model to so many people and also is a very loving leader of the staff. She takes time to make sure everybody knows they’re doing a good job.”

Hart — who just renewed her contract with Paramount TV to the tune of $25 million for five years — credits her upbringing in her native South Dakota for her attitude. “I’d have to say it goes back to my parents, and how they impressed upon me to treat each other as equals,” Hart says. “And I started out doing a local show in South Dakota where I did everything; I booked it, produced it, set the lights, swept the floor. I appreciate everybody at every level who works to create the show.”

While Hart may not display diva behavior, she is fiercely competitive — a trait that has paid off in an arena that is now crowded with entertainment news outlets for which “ET” paved the way. She and Blue review ratings daily, “before most people in this town even think about getting out of bed,” Blue says.

“I’ve always been competitive,” Hart says. “But I never equated being competitive with being cutthroat or back-stabbing; the focus has to be on how you can do your own personal best.”

Hart worked in broadcasting in Oklahoma City before moving to Los Angeles, where she worked for “PM Magazine” and a short-lived talker with Regis Philbin before landing “ET.” She wasn’t always sure, however, that newscasting was her ultimate goal in life.

“I did have ideas that I wanted to act,'” says Hart, who was taking acting and singing lessons when she got the “ET” offer.

While at “ET,” she dabbled in other areas of entertainment. She had a CBS sitcom pilot script written for her and she guest-starred on “Moonlighting.” She also had a cabaret act in Las Vegas and in Atlantic City.

“It took me 10 or 12 years to figure out I had the best job in the business, that it was most suited to me,” she says. “It was after I had gone to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, after I did act,” Hart says.

“And it was after I met Burt and married him a year later that my priorities changed. I had a desire to have a home life that was happy and secure and normal.”

Hart and her husband Burt Sugarman, who has produced such films as “Children of a Lesser God,” have a 10-year-old son.

Kerry McCluggage, chairman of Paramount TV Group, calls Hart the “energizer bunny of pep.”

“Not only has she played a great role as co-anchor of the show, she’s been tireless in promoting the show off the air,” McCluggage says. Hart, in fact, spent weekends in the early days of “ET” traveling to local stations to promote the skein. “Her dedication to the success of the show is inspiring.”

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