Imagine having to spend your first day on a new job with 47 million people across America watching you. Add in tens of millions more viewing you from countries worldwide, and it would be easy to feel a lot of pressure.
Mark Steines and Leeza Gibbons faced just that dilemma with aplomb on New Year’s Day, when the “Entertainment Tonight” veterans took over the duties of announcing the Rose Parade from veteran cohosts Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards after they spent more than 30 years at the helm of the KTLA Channel 5-based broadcast.
With that high-stakes debut behind them, the dynamic duo is eagerly awaiting their chance to shine on Monday, when they again guide viewers through two hours of spectacular floats and marching bands.
“Now we get it and can anticipate what the vibe is going to be,” says Gibbons. “It’s really a matter of ‘prepare, prepare, prepare’ and then stand by for spontaneity, because if you prepare, you can protect the overall product.”
“It goes a lot faster than you realize because you have to be on point the entire time,” adds Steines. “There’s constant changes, so much to see, so much to do, and nobody wants you talking over all who worked so hard to be there. It takes a vast understanding of the entire show from front to end to really have comprehension of it all.”
One big factor in their success was their ability to build off their long-standing chemistry from “Entertainment Tonight.” Following Eubanks and Edwards after more than three decades of ribbing each other, they had an instant sense of humor together.
“You can’t contrive it,” explains Gibbons. “We respect each other and have fun. We’re just like siblings supporting each other.”
“I think we worked out of fear last year, and our whole thing was ‘Let’s just get through this alive,’” says Steines. “We are supposed to have a long-standing relationship with the parade, but our chemistry will develop. We both come from the same backgrounds in some of these areas. I think we’ll find our own style, but it’s once a year so we can’t invent it organically.”
One potentially surprising aspect of the job is the amount of prep work that is required for the hosts. They not only have to gather and learn research about every one of the nearly 50 parade floats and their participants, but they also attend the ceremony announcing the Rose Queen and the Royal Court in addition to spending several days visiting the places where the floats are created and stored in order to gain an in-depth familiarity with them.
“We are able to go to all the barns where they built the floats, so this year we know how to zone in on details and extract stories from the behind-the-scenes experience,” says Gibbons. “We spend lots of days with the staff at the Tournament House, with its president, float designers, white suiters and volunteers. We do try to get indoctrinated to it all because it’s a big source of national pride.”
“I wanted to have a deeper understanding of how the floats are made and constructed, when the flowers are brought in, all the different things used to make and decorate these floats,” says Steines. “It only grounds us. Some families have done this for decades, this is their tradition, and I came in wearing the hat as host. I have a big responsibility to absorb the entire parade start to finish and still pass info along to the audience within a small amount of time.”
The pair follow not only in the tradition of Eubanks and Edwards, but also prior announcers including Dick Enberg, the veteran NBC sports announcer who won an Emmy for his work on the parade in 1974 and died on Dec. 21. KTLA has broadcast the parade since 1948.
They are also excited to be working with this year’s grand marshal, actor Gary Sinise. Steines in particular expressed admiration for his work with veterans.
“Gary Sinise could not be a better selection as grand marshal once you look at what he does with his free time, if he has any,” says Steines. “On Jan. 1, we’re all here celebrating what this great nation is about. There are troops on bases around the world tuning in to share with the nation on this day. He talked about how they changed one of the speed bumps outside his house to call it the Gump Bump.
“I love that Gary Sinise took a platform that he had and was known for and continued to make a difference,” Steines continues. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a standing ovation from the crowd.”