Leeza Gibbons on New Role as Rose Parade Host, Donald Trump and Returning to 'Celebrity Apprentice'

Leeza Gibbons_Mark Steines_RoseParade_publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of KTLA

Leeza Gibbons_Mark Steines_RoseParade_publicity - H 2016

"Be sure to pee before you get into the announcer's booth," departing host Bob Eubanks offered as advice to his new replacement.

On Jan. 2, KTLA will air its 70th broadcast of the annual Rose Parade from Pasadena. The parade has been a yearly tradition since its founding in 1890, and for the past 35 years the telecast has been hosted by Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards.

This year, however, a new duo will take over the emceeing duties. Former Entertainment Tonight and Leeza talk show host Leeza Gibbons will take over the mantle alongside fellow ET alum Mark Steines.

On a particularly cold and rainy day in Los Angeles, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Gibbons about her upcoming role as Rose Parade host and also chatted about her return to The Celebrity Apprentice — which she won in 2015 in Donald Trump’s final season — as a boardroom adviser beside new host Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I hope you’re someplace warm and dry.

[Laughs] I’m not. It’s not really nice, is it? I hope it will be nicer on the 2nd, because remember this entire tradition, in 1890, started to showcase our part of the world as the Mediterranean of the West and to kind of show people all the beautiful winters that we had. So we sure as heck better put on our best face.

You and co-host Mark Steines are stepping into pretty big shoes. Former hosts Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards hosted together for 35 years.

First of all, who gets a gig for 35 years? That’s just an astounding legacy to hand off and they did it with such grace. They were so lovely about saying, "Here you go. Have a great time. Be present." That’s pretty much the only advice they gave us, "Show up, be totally there, and be yourself." Other than Bob, I’ve known Bob for a long time, he’s a bit of a prankster. He said, "It’s live with no commercial breaks. That means no potty breaks for you, Leez. Be sure to pee before you get into the announcer’s booth." Click. I was like, that’s all you’ve got for me, Bob? After 35 years, that’s the best you can do? Empty your bladder? [Laughs]

Do you have to plan out your beats beforehand?

Oh, yeah. Believe me, nothing is left to chance. This thing has gone on since the turn of the century so there’s no way we can mess it up. It honestly is host-proof. The best we can do is get out of the way. Bob and Stephanie were favorites because they had a trusted relationship with them. I hope people will choose us and will allow us to begin our own journey, but that’s an organic thing. I hope people like us. [Laughs] The good news is we can only be who we are. The worst thing we could try and do is force some kind of relationship that was like Bob and Stephanie.

You and Steines worked together on Entertainment Tonight. Does it help to have a rapport with your co-host going into the Rose Parade?

I think this parade is just what’s needed right now because it’s TV comfort food and we really need it. I think our mirror has cracked, the reflection of who we all thought we were changed, and this is a reminder that we’re a country that comes together, that celebrates the good stuff and it’s pretty simple. It’s all about community. No matter how big your city, no matter how small your town, it’s all about people coming together to celebrate a new year, a new chance. This is about hope. Our theme is “Echoes of Success.” Well, everybody has that story. Everybody can look over their shoulder and say, "Here’s my mom. Here’s my first boss. Here’s somebody who lifted me up, who made me better and gave me a chance." That’s what the parade’s about. That’s what the band resonates. That’s what every floats about.

Did you grow up watching the parade?

I’ve been in the Los Angeles area for decades, myself. My three children were all born here. I’m in the redneck recovery program from South Carolina. As a girl I grew up watching this parade in my jammies just like everybody else thinking "wow." It’s big "wows" when we look at the floats, but it’s mostly about those little whisper "wows." It’s the most fabled five and a half miles in our pop culture.

The work is done by volunteers for the Rose Parade.

It’s so beautiful. They take so much pride in it. It’s not like they get any rolling credits with their name where they can get a screenshot of it going by or anything. It’s just the pride of knowing that they did it.

It's been a contentious election season and time for the country. You know Trump personally; have you spoken to him since his official election by the electoral college last week?

I have not spoken to him, I think he’s a bit busy with the inauguration, which I hope will be a wonderful chance for us to honor and thank our outgoing president and to wish Donald Trump well as he tackles what is an incomparable responsibility.

Speaking of Trump, you’re back on The Celebrity Apprentice this January with Schwarzenegger.

I think it was such an inspired piece of casting brilliance with Arnold. I had such a great time consulting with the new cast. Arnold is bold like Trump, and he has a lot of the same kind of experiences, but I think he has a quicker humor trigger than Trump does. He’s just naturally very funny, so that makes for a really different kind of boardroom.

The Rose Parade will air at 8 a.m. PT on Jan. 2.