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John, Leeza to toss nerf balls, not brickbats

John Tesh and Leeza Gibbons admit right away, without a hint of pretense, that their celebrity sources are very important to them, to their careers.

Make a star angry and you can kiss off a future interview and a hotshot exclusive.

When John and Leeza start their new talk show for NBC Monday morning, they won't be "jerks." It's not worth it.

"Celebrities have become our calling cards," Leeza Gibbons said during a recent telephone interview with co-host Tesh. "We've been working these contacts for years. We have to be accountable in our reporting or they are just going to blow us off."

"Accountable" might translate into amiable, as Tesh and Gibbons chat with their famous sources, not grill them on their latest loves or biggest bombs.

So, if you're looking for gossip and tough questions, look elsewhere. Leeza won't make them "squirm like they do on other daytime talk shows."

With Gibbons' and Tesh's experience, news stories and trends could be developed. There has to be a middle ground between trash and trite.

But NBC must have decided not to mess with success. The kiss-kiss format has worked well on Entertainment Tonight, which Tesh anchors weeknights and Gibbons hosts on the weekends. It also has been wildly successful on Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.

But Tesh and Gibbons say their show won't have the hard New York edge, but a L.A. lively looseness.

While Reeg and Kathie commiserate about the winter blues and schmooz about the subway, John and Leeza might wax about the California sunshine and the gliteratti at the hottest restaurant.

"It's going to be an interesting camaraderie," Tesh says of Regis and Kathie Lee, noting that in most markets the two shows don't even compete. In Tampa, John & Leeza will replace Montel Williams at 10 a.m. time-slot on WFLA-Ch. 8 each weekday.

Tesh, also a musician, says with some satisfaction that the original pair may be nervous. He was booked as a guest on Live! until his show was announced.

Even though they spend their lives in the firmaments of stars (and Tesh is married to one, Connie Sellecca), John and Leeza insist they have normal lives. It's a little hard to believe until a telling moment in the telephone interview.

Gibbons, in mid-sentence, stops and squeals.

"Hi Baby!"

Her young child has just wandered into the room. She sounds like any new mom.

"Sorry," she says after a moment of cooing. "It's a kid thing."

Told you, she promised to be nice.

TV PREVIEW

John & Leeza From Hollywood

Monday at 10 a.m. on WFLA-Ch. 8

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