Mary Hart exits "Entertainment Tonight"

After a 29-year run, longtime Entertainment Tonight anchor Mary Hart has decided to step down next year. The move marks an end of an era for the long-running syndicated strip, which has been on the air since September 15, 1981. Hart joined the CBS Television Distribution program in 1982.

According to The Wrap, The Insider’s Lara Spencer has been named new co-anchor of Entertainment Tonight effective when Hart leaves. CBS Television Distribution officials have not confirmed or denied this. 

Hart has been through numerous changes to the show over the years, from changes to the set, co-anchors, even to who syndicates the show.

Currently, Hart anchors with Mark Steiners, whose she’s been anchoring since 2004. Hart’s other co-anchors included Bob Goen, John Tesh, and Robb Weller, who left A.M. Chicago in 1984 to take the job (and was replaced here by Oprah Winfrey.)

Despite the show’s age, Entertainment Tonight (or simply abbreviated ET) has been among the highest-rated first-run shows, finishing in the top 20 for most of its run – even though the series has been through some down periods (notably between 1984 and 1988). A much-needed revamp of the show’s format in 1988 gave the program a much-needed ratings boost.

But ratings for ET has softened over the years as competition from other entertainment tabloid shows (Extra, Access: Hollywood, and TMZ), cable networks (E! and TV Guide Channel) and the Internet have taken its toll. In the last few years in Chicago, Access on WMAQ-TV has outrated ET in households and in younger demos. However, both still get beat by Wheel of Fortune on WLS-TV and faces tough competition for younger viewers from popular syndicated sitcom reruns on other channels.

Two years ago, ET left its longtime home on Stage 28 at Paramount Studios in Hollywood to Stage 4 at CBS Studio Center in the Studio City section of Los Angeles to coincide with the show’s move to high-definition. In 2006, ET syndicator Paramount Domestic Television changed its name to CBS Paramount Television Distribution after owner Viacom split into two companies (CBS has since dropped the Paramount name from all of its properties.)

Mary Hart’s departure comes at a time when local stations are balking at paying increased license fees for first-run and off-network syndicated programming due to the recession, which continues to batter advertising budgets and local revenues. In fact, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Hart’s salary was cut in order to bring her back for one final season – she was reported to make an estimated $5 million per year (Hart’s publicist has denied this was the case.)

Hart’s departure next year coincides with that of Oprah Winfrey, whose ending her talk show after 25 years.