MIAMI BEACH -- Her job as co-anchor of America Now may not place Leeza Gibbons in as many homes or carry the cache she enjoyed on Entertainment Tonight, Extra or during seven seasons of hosting her own talk show – but at age 55 she says it fits better with her sense of what is really important in life.
"My mother taught me to just show up and do your best," explained Gibbons, who was in the Trifecta suite at NATPE last week looking to boost carriage of the daily magazine show. She says she can now follow that advice after spending years fearing what it would mean not to have "a big title" or “a big job with a lot of money."
"We fall in love with former images of ourselves and that keeps us stopped because we fail to let go of that so we can create new space for the next stage that we should be dancing on," Gibbons said. “I don't see a lot of messages out there telling me once you morph into what's waiting for you, it can be richer and more meaningful."
But that is among the messages Gibbons delivers on the daily show she co-hosts with Bill Rancic. In addition to news and lifestyle tips, she gets to speak about the topics closest to her heart—personal re-invention and how to support family members who are caring for people with memory diseases, as well as those struggling with an autistic child, or a spouse with cancer. The show was created by the Raycom station group and is produced by ITV Studios.
A dozen years ago, Gibbons launched a South Florida-based foundation called Leeza's Place after seeing the effects of memory disease on her own mother and grandmother.
Gibbons’ turning point was in 2003. Shortly after she started the foundation, Gibbons was in Florida for an event when she got a call from her producer at Extra, who said she needed to rush home to do an interview. Gibbons said she was committed to an event and couldn’t make it back, but the producer made it clear her choices were to return immediately or lose her job.
“I didn't flinch. I chose to move in the direction where I was headed,” Gibbons said.
With her mother getting steadily worse and her third marriage disintegrating, the mother of three decided to take two years off to focus on the foundation and figure out her life.
Those two years turned into nearly five.
Her mother passed away in 2008, and she wrote about the experience in her 2009 book, Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss.
She finally returned to television in 2010 as host of the weekly PBS show My Generation. The program, which is still on-air, features inspirational stories from celebrities and tackles issues such as health, money and relationships.
Gibbons also used her time to build outside business interests, including a line of mineral based cosmetics called Sheer Cover as well as a line of jewelry. She also has a company about to launch a line of scrap-booking products, which tie into her foundation’s goal of helping preserve the lives of loved ones suffering from memory diseases.
On Feb. 5, Gibbons will unleash her latest venture, book called Take 2: Your Guide to Creating Happy Endings and New Beginnings. She will soon hit the talk show circuit shortly to promote it.
Gibbons said in the book she reflects on her previous marriage, as well as falling into the pitfalls of being too competitive about her career and wrongly thinking she could use her money and power to find people to cure her mother’s illness.
“If you're a success junkie—and I would put myself in that category—you want and expect success in your personal life, in your physical fitness life and in your relationships,” she said. “You crave success. You are in a state of constantly reaching and reaching."
But she said at a certain point, one must reevaluate one’s pursuit of success and life.
“Maybe it doesn’t fit any more,” Gibbons said. “Maybe I've just been pursuing it because it's all I know or I'm afraid of what will happen if I don’t have it."
Part of that reinvention came in 2011, when Gibbons took her fourth husband, Steven Fenton, who is 13 years her junior.
"I finally reached a place where I was proud not of my accomplishments," said Gibbons, "I realized I was deserving of great love with someone who honored me, valued me, respected me and supported me and I could give that back."
She took over as co-anchor and an executive producer on America Now in 2010, the second season of the show, which was launched by Raycom on its own stations as a hedge against the rising cost of syndicated programming. ITV joined as producing partner on the program, which offers half pre-taped content from Hollywood and for the other half offers reports from various affiliated stations, much as PM Magazine did a generation ago.
So far the show has struggled. It has had a 1.1 household rating and three percent share of the audience in the in the 14 metered TV markets where it airs, which is down eight percent from a year ago. It is also down an average of 27 percent from its lead-in shows in recent weeks.
In January, Trifecta came aboard to help syndicate America Now more widely, and hopefully help it find a broader audience, which is why Gibbons was at NATPE pushing the program.
Perhaps indicative of her new outlook on life, while in South Florida Gibbons also found time to go to a drum circle at her foundation. The drum circle is an old Native American custom where people literally beat a drum to send out good vibrations to help heal the sick and support those who tend to the sick.
"It's very easy to be magnanimous when you're wearing the crown," said Gibbons, "but when you have to take off the crown, that is when you have to show who you really are. That's when all of those attributes you've been trying to build over a lifetime come into play."
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