Leeza Gibbons and Bill Rancic celebrate the 500th episode of their “America Now” show tomorrow (2/5) — a rare feat “in this environment, with the marketplace so competitive,” as she points out. “Anyone who gets to stay on the air is incredibly blessed these days. We’re the little show that could.”
The installment features segments about how to erase one’s self from a website, a tire-shining product, and ways to prevent bullying-by-text for youngsters. “If you can put the information to use in your life right away, that’s what we want. There is so much programming in this genre, we’ve asked ourselves, ‘How are we going to figure out where that sweet spot is?’ For us, it always comes back to: Can you take this information and apply it to your life right now? And if you can, then it’s our story.”
The consumer-friendly program also happens to be a perfect fit for Gibbons at this time in her life. It’s been 12 years since she launched her Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and 11 since the actualization of her dream to help families of Alzheimer’s patients with her Leeza’s Place support programs — programs she wished she’d had available when her own mother, who passed away in 2008, was going through the disease. With locations in California, Florida and Illinois, Leeza’s Place offers services including memory screenings, information workshops on Alzheimer’s and caregiving, even caregiver spa days. Online resources at leezasplace.org are available to anyone.
“It is the most inspiring, rewarding, challenging work I’ve ever done. I absolutely love it,” declares the energetic South Carolina-born TV host/author/entrepeneur/philanthropist. “You know, the world of non-profits is not for sissies. It’s a world I didn’t know anything about, and it’s not my core strength. It’s hard to sustain a non-revenue-generating nonprofit, a psycho-social support program — it’s really hard,” she admits. “The business models have changed dramatically. What I’ve learned from being 10 years on the ground with these incredible families is, the greatest service we can offer right now is to connect them to each other. That’s why I’ve become very inspired to put together this, what I call the Care Connection, care connectors — being the conduit so the person who’s been through it can reach out and help the next person along.”
She adds, “I am feeling inspired to take some nontraditional approaches with it. I don’t know whether I will be changing my seat at the table. I’m going to do whatever it takes to serve the family caregivers out there. That is my passion. So far, we’re doing that pretty nicely.”
She has an upcoming “America Now” segment that will give a Virtual Dementia Tour to help viewers empathize with those who have cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to the non-profit work that is closest to her heart, Gibbons continues to be busy with her product lines, including her popular scrapbooking collection — another inspiration from the tough times of her mom’s memory loss, when Leeza wanted her daughter and two sons to see their grandmother as the woman Leeza knew.
She also is finding time for personal time with fourth husband, Steven Fenton. “It’s really, really important,” she says. In fact, “I’m leaving tomorrow to take my husband on a birthday escape to Ixtapa. We’ve been taking lots and lots of trips.
“I took some time to hit the reset button on my life, and that’s why I wrote the book about it (Take 2: Your Guide to Creating Happy Endings and New Beginnings) calling for another take in my own life. Because I think where we get stuck is, we fall in love with that person we used to be. Or that job we used to have or the big paycheck, or the marriage, or when we were skinny, or when we didn’t have to work, whatever. It’s very easy to fall in love with the former version of yourself. And that just breeds chronic unhappiness, So, my real mantra and the way I sign my notes is Ever Forward. For me, it was a chance to look at: How do I move forward honoring the person I am now? To take inventory and take all those dreams for a test drive, and decide which ones still fit.”
Moving forward, the one-time “Entertainment Tonight” mainstay tells us, “I really feel like this is the best time of my life. Even though it looks like a lot, and it is, I guess that’s the benefit of having done things for awhile — you do them really efficiently. I have the world’s best schedule. I love doing the show. I’m crazy about Bill Rancic. He’s like working with your mischievous kid brother. We get along so great.
“Life makes a lot of sense for me right now,” she concludes. “Things have presented themselves in a way that I’m able to offer my energy and my skills and my heart to the things that I care about the most.”