Hart, who hosted the series for 29 years, says, “What gets me today is people under the age of 35 don’t know that ‘ET’ was alone in this genre and created it, and that every time you see an entertainment news story anywhere today, it’s because we started there.”
The show is celebrating its 35th season milestone the entire month of November, kicking off a few days before with Hart stopping by on Oct. 29. Throughout the month, the show will look back on more than 10,000 episodes and 100,000 interviews, pulling up footage from the extensive archives starting in 1981, while also airing new interviews with stars who chime in about their first time on “ET,” including Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Costner, Kate Hudson, Jessica Simpson and more.
“It was always important to us to be on the cutting edge, but it was always extremely important to keep our credibility. The only way to have done that was to keep a higher standard,” Hart, who exited the show in 2011, said on set about “ET’s” long-running success. “Looking back, it wasn’t easy. In those early years, I was travelling — I’d hit three different cities every weekend to promote the show and to sit down with station managers, programming directors and TV critics, who, by the way, said some very unkind things for a very long time.”
Hart, who will be interviewed by current host Nancy O’Dell on the special episode, recalls a time when there was barely any interest in entertainment news and industry execs questioned how the series would fill up five nights per week. Now, Hart talks to Variety about the changing world of celebrity-heavy media.
“I keep thinking, ‘Where is the tipping point where the public will get sick of it and tune out completely?’ Obviously, they haven’t yet,” Hart says.
Today, in the world of multi-platform content and immediate news on Twitter, television and beyond, stars are on interview overload, the former host notes.
“I get a concern that there is a fatigue among the celebrities. I saw it starting to happen about 15 years ago when there were so many outlets demanding time with the stars — granted, you want to get as much publicity as possible if you’re releasing a new album or film or TV show, but there is a point at which it is impossible to preserve who you are if you give it all away to every single outlet. You saw publicists get more protective,” she says of the changing landscape. “As wonderful as it is and as hard as so many people work to get that fame and have that success, once you get it and have held on to it for a while, you go, ‘Oh my gosh, let me just have some peace and quiet.'”
Here, Hart tells Variety about her favorite “Entertainment Tonight” moments, her toughest interview subject and best interviews of all time.
Can you pick a favorite interview?
It’s such an impossible thing to answer. Tom Hanks is always wonderful to talk to. When I look back at people who were always unpredictable but fun — Bette Midler. She’s a whirlwind of energy and so creative, so talented. She’s a wonderful actress. At first, all we saw were her outrageous costumes and her incredible performances on stage. I always loved interviewing Bette. George Clooney has always been so self-deprecating and wonderful and he’s the one who, like Tom [Hanks], would sit down and say, “How are you doing? How old is your son now? What is he doing?” They’re human.
Who was your toughest interview?
Richard Pryor. At the time, he was heavily into his drugs and he was just an antagonizing kind of person. He was not kind.
Who made you cry?
There were several instances. Annette Funicello, when she got to the point where I was reading her letters from fans and she could barely speak and she could barely see, that made me weep.
Who made you laugh the most?
Robin Williams. Always. Because he was so off-the-wall, as we all know. He’d be so wacky. Half the time, you’re laughing hysterically and half the time, you’re sitting there going, “What in the hell is he saying?” But at the same time, you see this genius come through.
Did anyone make you nervous?
I was so nervous interviewing Walter Cronkite when I went to do that interview because I had grown up watching him on TV and he was America’s most trusted. I think it was 1984 or 1985 when I went to New York and did the interview and at that time, we were still in the middle of people saying, “This show isn’t going to last.” When he complimented me on the show and said that [his] news producers could learn a lot by paying attention to “Entertainment Tonight,” and then afterwards, when he said, “Great interview,” it was incredible.
Is there anyone that you never got to interview that you would have loved to?
I’ve always wanted to interview Katharine Hepburn. I just so admired her independence — that incredible spirit that she had and fighting her way through the Hollywood system in a very male-dominated time in the business. In fact, all those women were pretty incredible.
Are there any newer stars who are huge today that you never got to interview, but would like to?
I did an interview with Justin Bieber right over in my bungalow right when he was turning 16. Also Miley Cyrus. Some of the newer music stars I have not interviewed and I would be curious of what is behind their ideas and how they’re constantly changing.
How do you consume your news today?
The New York Times online at night and The Wall Street Journal, avidly holding the paper. Both the Sunday LA Times and The New York Times, the actual papers — I love that. I’ll read Bloomberg News, but I’m also an avid CNN and Fox watcher. I have my AP app that alerts me as soon as there’s breaking news anywhere. I’m kind of a news junkie that way and I always have been, but now I have more time to pay attention.
“Entertainment Tonight” is currently hosted by O’Dell and Kevin Frazier and exec produced by Brad Bessey. Nischelle Turner is correspondent, and Cameron Mathison and Samantha Harris are correspondents and “Entertainment Tonight Weekend” co-anchors.