Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interview: Mark Steines' Perfect App for Your Life

For 17 years, families all over America invited Mark Steines into their homes each evening as he hosted “Entertainment Tonight.” Mark was our go-to guy for all things celebrity, and we trusted him for his down-to-earth personality, boy-next-door good looks and an intelligence that was evident among all the celebrity news and gossip.

Now we get to see Mark in an environment that suits him for his — and his fans’ — changing life. Since October 2012, Mark has co-hosted, along with Cristina Ferrare, the Hallmark Channel’s hit daytime talk show “Home and Family.” I spoke with Mark recently, and he told me all about his new job at Hallmark, which, he says, truly is like family.

Celebrity Extra: You were a mainstay on “Entertainment Tonight” for 17 years; what made you decide to leave?

Mark Steines: I think it had to do with a variety of things, but mostly it was personal. Just to spend time with my family — my kids were growing, and I was gone so much on the road several times a week. I have over 3 million miles just on American Airlines alone. And when I was present, I was either tired or recuperating from things. Almost every vacation I took I was called away from early or was delayed taking off because of something that I felt was consequential. The older I got I went, “Really? My family is much more important to me than some of these things.”

But pop culture has to thrive, and you have to continue to stay on top of it. It’s ever-changing. And with TMZ and the Internet — I don’t want to give all the credit to TMZ, but they really came in and made a big splash with their website — things were breaking constantly. Trying to keep up with them and ahead of them doing a show every night at 7 or 7:30 — they’re breaking news around the clock on their website — was hard.

CE: What’s a big difference between working on “ET” versus “Home and Family”?

MS: The big difference is I used to have to go to the stars, now they come to me. And our show isn’t really “star” based in that regard. Typically when they come on, we try to unmask that celebrity, and we take them into the kitchen with us or we’ll do a DIY project with them. We’ll build something. We’ll make something. We’ll do a catch-water system. We’ll talk about gardening, if they are into that. What I always really wanted to do with celebrities is to see the other side of them. What really makes them tick? That’s what I like about this show. Plus I don’t have to go anywhere. Granted, it’s about an hour commute for me every day each way. So, that’s a pain in the butt, but it’s a lot better than having to go to LAX, sit at the terminal and wait for my plane.

CE: Was it difficult to adjust to your new work schedule and pace?

MS: It took a while for me to do a couple of things: With “ET,” the style of hosting — and this is an editorial on my part — it’s very sort of superficial, high energy, almost yelling, trying to make it look like you’re not. Just really ramped up. With “Home and Family,” I had to shed that skin, and know that taking the beats and letting them play was enough. We have a two-hour show. We have a lot of real estate to cover.

And the other thing was with “ET” it was very hard to show personality because there just wasn’t time for it. You could find a couple of moments here and there maybe, but it was just so edited. So, here, when it came time to really be me, I didn’t know which end was up. I thought, “Well, do I say that? Should I say that? We don’t have time for that. Does anybody really care about my opinion or my insights or my thoughts on this and how I feel about it?” But I learned to talk a little bit more and share a little bit more of my personal life on camera. It was tough at first. Cristina, my co-host, is very good at that. So, that part was quite a transition.

Mark and Cristina at "Home"

CE: What are some of the things you really like about hosting “Home and Family”?

MS: There are so many, but I think what I enjoy most about the show is when people come on, there’s the same reaction — it doesn’t matter if they are a big celebrity or a doctor who’s come on to talk — they comment about how different this show feels from any other that they’ve been on. And it’s because we are in a real house. This isn’t a fake set with flaps and you think: “Oh, I see. That’s where the host goes, behind that flap.” This is a real house with real, working appliances, bathrooms, everything. It disarms people, because we don’t have high-end furniture, and it’s flatly lit. So, you come on and you feel like you’re just hanging at somebody’s house. Our guests become very comfortable very quickly.

Some people, when their segment is up, they don’t want to leave. We had singer Edwin McCain on the show, and it turned out that he and his wife had adopted a baby, and we were doing a segment with this doctor about swaddling babies. He was like, “Can I be in that? I’ve always wanted to know, because I have my little one, and I’m trying to learn to do this, and I’m not quite getting it right.” It was a very organic thing that happened, and people enjoy that.

CE: I love seeing celebrities just doing normal things like that: learning to swaddle, to garden, to cook.

MS: Yeah, people come on our show, and they’ll get a chance to go in the kitchen, if we are doing cooking, or are working on a grill. They share with us the things that they are into, and we try to incorporate that into the show. That is what I really like about it. There’s no other show like it on television, and that’s what made me want to be a part of it. This is something that I want to do. It’s home and it’s family. And that’s what I’m into.

This weekend at the Television Critics Association’s press tour, Cristina and I were reflecting on our show, and I said, “You know, you can’t have a home and a family, and not really be a family in a home and make it work.” The same thing is, you can’t fake two hours a day — pretend to be somebody you’re not two hours a day, five days a week. Over a period of time, the real jerk will come out if that is who you are. So, you have to be who you are and just trust that the audience is going to like it. You have to be authentic. And our viewers, I think, get a good dose of that.

CE: It sounds like you all really have become a family on the show.

MS: I worked with “ET” for 17 years, and I was never this close to people there; it’s just such a big operation, and you feel like you get lost in it. This is a small show with a big heart. And Hallmark believes in us. We’re the cornerstone of their daytime programming, and I love it. I watched the Golden Globes, and I was thinking that I just didn’t miss it at all. The red carpet is one of the worst assignments, in my opinion, that you can get because there’s so much pressure to get something, and you typically fall flat.

CE: What can we expect from “Home and Family” to come?

MS: We typically look at the different seasons like everybody. We want to live our lives, and we teach you how to live your life better. So, as we go through the different seasons — right now we are heading out of the holiday season, and we’re moving into Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl stuff. I know we are going to have relationship experts on. I always find those segments fascinating, because we talk about body language, sleep positions that people are in. What does it say about your relationship?

We’re also moving into spring, so I know we’ll start doing more and more stuff with Shirley Bovshow, our gardening expert. How to take care of a good lawn to moving more outdoors, so we’ll have that sort of thing. And then we’ll move into cooking and barbecuing. I’m sure we’ll start moving into that direction once things start thawing out. Our show is the perfect app for your life.

Speaking of guests, I have to tell you about this. We had “The Amazing Kreskin,” the world-famous mentalist, on the show recently. That guy blew me away. I have no idea how he did his stuff. It was ridiculous. He put a locked container in our house and told us, “I’ll be back here next year, and we’ll open it.” He predicted what was going to happen in 2014 and wrote it down, and he put it inside the container. So, I think that’s a good sign because that means we’ll get picked up for season three if he knows he’s coming back next year.

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