Santina Leuci knows how to make the most of 24 hours. As an executive producer for ABC’s Good Morning America, she takes charge of editorial strategies and booking major guests across the entire news division while fitting in her children’s homework and dinner each day.
After graduating from Emmanuel College with a Communications/Liberal Arts degree, Leuci interned at a local TV station in Boston, where her addiction to news began. “It was the excitement of the newsroom, the stories and deadlines,” she tells VIBE of her experience working on the news desk as an undergrad. “I loved being on a breaking news story and covering trials. I covered the Pam Smart trial for that Boston station with one of their reporters. It was complete adrenaline.”
The news junkie then turned her passion into a career. The four-time Emmy Award winner started as a producer for A Current Affair on FOX and Hard Copy before setting up shop at ABC’s 20/20 and PrimeTime Live in 1999. She joined the GMA team as head of the booking department in January 2002, orchestrating exclusive gets for the show from Ashley Dupré to Charlie Sheen.
Here, Leuci discusses her career trajectory, balancing work with family around the clock and the best lesson she’s learned from GMA anchor Robin Roberts.
How I got my start:
I was an intern for this Boston news station. I helped work the news desk and book guests. We started this little program called “56 In Your Town,” where we talked about local issues. After that, I went to A Current Affair on Fox where my bosses taught me, ‘When you walk out that door, you don’t come back until you have the story.’ That was intense.
What I’ve learned from my female mentors:
I’ve been taught by the best so I feel very spoiled that way. I have been able to work with people that you read about like Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung, Robin Roberts (pictured above with Santina) and Barbara Walters. They all had important lessons for me. Diane was always about staying curious. You have to keep asking the questions to get the answer. Connie and Barbara taught me about family, and making sure that you don’t forget your kids. Robin has taught me to appreciate every moment of your life. Imagine if you had a colleague who went through [what she did]. She taught us to tell important stories and that life is very delicate. I’m not so sure that there are teachers like that anymore. I pray that there are, but I just feel like these are women who broke glass ceilings, worked on magazine shows for the first time and did important work in an all men’s club.
On balancing family and work:
I feel like I live my life a little off-balanced all the time but it’s ok. If I forget my son’s note from school, I don’t sweat the small stuff. Even if I continue to work when I’m at home with my family, I try to give them 100%. My husband loses out a little bit on all of this but I know how to juggle it all so that it works out.
On working for the top morning news show in America:
When you start off in this business, you really enjoy where you are. When you’re young, you don’t really look [at your career] long-term. Every day, I sometimes I have to pinch myself. I work for ABC News and Good Morning America, the top morning show in this country. It’s an important show and it sometimes feels heavy when you think of it that way but I have a really amazing team of producers. They’re hungry and energized.
My team is the best because:
I feel like Good Morning America bookers are like the military. They are the first ones in and the last ones to leave. They are the hardest-working. Like park horses, they never stop. Because of that, we’re all very close and that’s really important. I lean on them a lot and they lean on me. I’ve been here for 13 to 14 years and it’s always been like a family in the booking department. They are the first ones to congratulate each other and the first ones to help each other out. It’s a very interesting group and they are all really smart, competitive and don’t like to lose but when they do, they have each other’s back. That’s what gets me up every single day.
My daily routine:
My mornings usually start at 5:00 in the morning. I read in, check in and then I’ll work out. To go into the city, I jump on the train, where I do a lot of the work, reading all the newspapers and talking to people in the control room. Then I’m at [ABC News] from 8:00 till 4:35, jump back on the train and get home by 5:36. When I get home, I do all the family stuff, but I’m logged in at all times. I usually go to bed after watching Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
On being a morning person:
The key for me is that I want to be up and read-in before everybody else.
The “secret” to success in the news industry:
The bottom line for most people is really working hard. There is no golden ticket. There’s no ‘This is what you need to do.’ If you don’t have that passion, especially for news because it’s 24 hours, you can forget it. It has to be in your DNA. You can’t sit home on Saturday as a huge news event happens and just go on with your day. Anybody that’s a news junkie or somebody that works in this business will immediately be in the office, making calls. You work as hard as you can and work those weekends, overnights, and those Saturday mornings. People pay attention to people that work hard.
The definition of a boss:
A boss is somebody who will always keep you on your toes and question you, but is supportive. All the bosses that have been the most effective for me have had the same qualities. Positive reinforcement has always been really good but constructive criticism has been very helpful. A boss is really a leader who can actually say, ‘What else can we be doing here?’ Somebody that you can just talk with.
The most rewarding story I’ve worked on:
I really can’t pick and choose because it’s going to choke me up. There are so many. I’ve told people’s stories and afterwards, they have called and written letters, thanking me because they were worried about talking [on-air] or were not sure that they should, but were so glad they did. From school shootings to people who have done tremendous things in their lives to people that have been caught in really insane circumstances. When they feel like you did right by them, that’s where I feel like I’ve done my job.
Photo Credit: ABC News
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