Hollywood Awards fete the 'ET' icon

Ask Mary Hart of “Entertainment-Tonight” about George Clooney or Tom Cruise and she trills, “I love them.”

Tina Turner? Bette Midler? “I love them, too!” she gushes.

Betty White? “How does anybody not adore Betty White?” Hart enthuses. “My gosh, if you’ve had a down day, all you need to do is run into Betty!”

That’s 30 “ET” seasons of “I love them” straight from the Hart.

So bubbly. So chirpy. So cheerful. They sure grow them happy in Hart’s hometown of Madison, South Dakota.

And all that bubbly gushing has paid off. Hart is a longstanding survivor in the lightning short career world of celebrity journalism.

Next May, the “ET” anchor and those legendary legs will part company with the CBS nationally syndicated entertainment show. Lara Spence of “The Insider” is the heavily reported fave to take over Hart’s throne.

“When I started, I don’t think any of us dreamed we’d be on the air in our 40s. Our 50s! Let alone our 60s!” Hart recalls in amazement.

The “ET” anchor takes great pride in being the first to go backstage at every kind of production. “We’ve run the gamut from ‘Extra-Terrestrial’ to ‘Knight and Day.’ You name the movie; we’ve been there. And I’ve had a blast!”

Hart fondly recalls one of the “most fun things” she did last year. “I sang ‘My Cherie Amour’ with Rod Stewart in his rehearsal studio right here in Beverly Hills. It was a hoot!”

Of her many other “most fun things,” she points to the Hollywood Awards. On Oct. 25, Hart will, for her seventh year, host the gala.

“What’s fun is the spontaneity of it all,” she says. “At that early point in the year, the committee doesn’t know what to look for in movies. Year after year what surprises me is how accurate the show has been in coming up with the films and stars that end up winning the major awards.”

Hart flashes back to 2006, the year Sandra Bullock won best supporting actress. “Surprise, surprise! It was for ‘Crash.’ And it was the first time anybody looked at her and saw that Sandra Bullock, by golly, can be a dramatic actress!

“And then, lo and behold, last fall, she got the honor for ‘The Blind Side.’ Then she went on to win the Academy Award. How exciting is that?”

From the Hollywood Awards to the Oscars, Hart delights in the fact that she is “the first person to talk to an actor about a role and its impact. That’s what’s fun!”

In the TMZ-ing of celeb journalism, the news-gathering biz is crowding in from every angle.

“The competition is that much more fierce. I was worried about that 20 years ago, let alone yesterday,” Hart acknowledges. “We all wondered how long we could last as a show when there were so many people who were copying the concept.”

And in the ever-evolving face of television, the growing popularity of reality shows has significantly impacted the look of “ET,” as a new category of entertainers has popped up overnight like flowers or mushroom or weeds after a rainstorm. Are reality show stars displacing regular actors?

“Gosh. We now have people who nobody knew their names or faces one day, and suddenly they’re mega-stars in a matter of weeks. They’re not movie stars. They’re major TV stars!” says Hart, who goes on to recall when the phenom first impacted her career.

“When I came across this newsstand two or three years ago, I stopped because I saw all these kids and this couple — the blonde and this Hawaiian-looking guy. I went, ‘I wonder why they’re on the cover of all these magazines?’ The next thing you know, I’m sitting there on the set of ‘ET’ with Jon Gosselin. The impact of reality shows and the fragmentation of TV just really hit home.”

Concludes Hart: “We never wanted to never be the paparazzi of the genre. We want to be the fact-getters and the in-depth story presenters. I’m not trying to sit there and pass judgment on anybody. I have never wanted that. But in terms of asking the difficult questions, I have always believed that there is a nice way to do that.”

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