Women in Entertainment 2010 - Power 100 List
It’s 6 a.m., and the conference room inside Entertainment Tonight’s offices on the CBS Radford lot in Studio City already is buzzing.
This rainy morning’s hot topic is a wedding — not the Indian nuptials of Katy Perry and Russell Brand, which will become the day’s big celebrity happening, but rather that of ET staffers Ben Wallace and Whitney Nevill, who have just returned from their Hawaiian honeymoon.
“I cried as soon as you hit the aisle,” exclaims Linda Bell Blue, sounding like a proud mother, bleached blond hair dominating her head like her ebullient personality dominates the conversation.
Bell Blue is the shrewd producer who has been running television’s most successful newsmagazine for 16 years, getting up at 4 a.m. five days a week. And it has paid off: ET has been the No. 1 magazine show in syndication the past 743 weeks.
Heidi Clements, ET’s senior broadcast producer, marvels at her boss’ ability to steer the ship with unwavering conviction. “She has a golden gut,” Clements says. “She knows within seconds of looking at a video whether or not the story is going to work with our audience.”
Bell Blue’s focus is apparent at the morning meeting: Within minutes, she steers the conversation toward those more notable nuptials, which join ET’s existing story ideas stuck to the wall on bright blue Post-it notes.
“We’re in good shape for sweeps,” she says. “You have to win. Not winning is not acceptable.”
The Springfield, Mo., native got her need to win from her father, R.A. Bell, who ran an oil business and enjoyed watching Walter Cronkite deliver the CBS Evening News with his media-savvy daughter.
Bell Blue became a TV reporter while studying journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia; covering local news in Detroit and Miami, her hunger for breaking news was born.
"There's nothing better than a breaking news story. It's just in your blood."
“There’s nothing better than a breaking news story,” she says. “It’s just in your blood.”
She still remembers the names of victims whose murders she covered (82-year-old Elinor Haggart from Miami, for one), though those memories pale when compared to the exclusive interview she landed with Charles Manson as a reporter at KCBS in Los Angeles in her 20s. Her office wall is plastered with images of career milestones. “We’ve been in Cairo covering a movie near the Sphinx,” she points out. “That’s Greece, covering Mamma Mia! That’s Rome with [ET host] Mark Steines in front of the Vatican, covering Angels & Demons. See the castle in the back? That’s Tom Cruise’s wedding in Bracciano, Italy.”
And yet, driven as she is professionally, Bell Blue is quite the opposite domestically.
Every morning, she and her husband of 25 years — Steve Blue, executive vp production management at Comcast — get up at 4 a.m. He takes their only “child,” 2-year-old boxer Duke, for a walk through their West Hollywood neighborhood. They rarely vacation; the last time they went to Europe, she says: “[We] went for four days. We were asleep the whole time.”
Before breakfast, Bell Blue is wide awake and already on her first conference call during a commute to ET’s offices. Then she runs the first of two producers’ meetings, as she is doing today. (She won’t see her husband again until 7 p.m., when they watch her shows together in bed.)
Around 3 p.m., less than an hour before ET airs on the East Coast, Bell Blue is dressed for bikram yoga, where, in a 105-degree room, she will exercise in silence for 90 minutes — a crucial respite in a life that seems endlessly in motion. “It’s a basic law of nature: To create energy, you have to use energy,” she says of her need for the near-daily session.
After her workout, she visits her mother, who watches Duke every afternoon, then heads home.
But that is still hours away. Right now, she has a show to produce.
“The old saying is, don’t lead with the lead story — put it at the end,” she says, admitting she’s done her best to manipulate the Nielsen meters. “The first block is long, the second block is short because it’s in between, and the third block is long because if viewers click out at four minutes and 58 seconds, you don’t get the credit.”
She smiles, thrilled at the challenge before her. “You have to love this job to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning for 16 years,” Bell Blue says. “It’s a 24-hour loop of instant gratification.”
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