"Celebrity Apprentice" winner Leeza Gibbons has always been a rare, first-class star.

“Celebrity Apprentice” winner Leeza Gibbons has always been a rare, first-class star.

Two things I know for sure about last night’s winner of “Celebrity Apprentice” Leeza Gibbons: she’s always been first-class and she has that rare gift of compelling gab.

In my other life, when I worked in the daytime talk business, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Gibbons for a week when she brought her talk show “Leeza” to New York from Los Angeles.  The parent production company was too cheap to fly out her full production team so they borrowed some of the staff from the show I worked on.

On paper, it was an awkward proposition because “Leeza” was one of the shows we regularly fought with guests over.

Like, for example, a police officer from middle America who was caught on video getting shot (thankfully unharmed because of his bullet proof vest).

Working with Leeza

When we began production on a week of “Leeza” shows, we all wondered how we would be received by our colleagues from the west coast.  From Day One, Gibbons was on-site, working with her combined team.  Her team was a happy, pleasant group (in contrast to our show’s team with knots in their stomach).

To the surprise of all the New York-based team, Gibbons came to production meetings, asked questions during pre-show briefings and read the scripts before stepping on stage.  She even gave a huge shout-out to the audience coordinators who are the unsung heroes of talk shows.

This was all in contrast to everything us New York people knew from our host.  She wasn’t phoning it in.  Gibbons was first-class, engaged and grateful all the way.

Daytime Booking Incentives

"Celebrity Apprentice" winner Leeza Gibbons has always been a rare, first-class star.

We’ll be seeing more of Leeza Gibbons on TV shortly. My vote is on The View.

As a hard and fast rule, the daytime shows we competed with never paid for guests; we all offered incentive gifts and paid for usage rights to video and photos.  For high-value guests, three night / four day all-expense paid trips to New York City or Disney World usually worked well as incentives.  Tier 2 guests got shopping sprees – by sprees I mean $500 – at The Gap or sometimes a lifetime supply of diapers and baby supplies.

Triplet, quadruplet, quintuplet children stories sometimes got donations to the charities or trusts the savvy parents founded.  Replaceable guests got $25 to $50 for “dog sitter expenses” just to make sure they got their ass on that plane to the show.  Seriously.

But the “caught on video” police officer had to get more.

“Brush With Death” Exclusive

Everyone wanted to talk with that police officer for a “brush with death” type exclusive.  At that time (before iPhones), the mantra in every daytime talk show’s office was “if there’s video, book it.”  Meaning, build a show around anything compelling caught on video – nanny cams, dashboard cameras, etc.

Sweeps month was coming and it came down to the police officer deciding between “Leeza” and my show.  This was his 15 minutes of fame.  The “last and finals” from both shows were week-long family vacations at Disney Land or Disney World.  He needed to make a decision.

Ultimately, and regrettably, we “won” that guest.  Note to self: police officers are not usually compelling storytellers.  Ayyyy.

Gibbons Hasn’t Changed 

Judging by her winning role on “Celebrity Apprentice” and Gibbons’ clear dedication to the charity she founded to support families struggling with dementia, time away from the spotlight has not changed her.  I hear producers at the Today Show have (smartly) been paying attention.  Focus groups have been engaged and are being queried about Gibbons.  It will be curious where on TV she soon lands.

I hope she chooses not to try another daytime talk show.  That landscape has changed too much (see Ricki Lake, post-Celebrity Apprentice).  I see her as a host or correspondent on something light-but-smart in tone, like the third hour of the Today Show, The View, CBS This Morning or something news-ish on Investigation Discovery or the Lifetime network.  She may have to move to New York for a little while.  Part of her energy is visual, so a syndicated radio show – which she could have tomorrow – wouldn’t be the right fit.

In any industry, it’s great when you see a win for the “good ones.”

Learn more about Gibbon’s charity, founded in honor of her mother, LeezasCareConnection.org.  Check out the finale of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” here.

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