All the ReegeRegis Philbin has a pretty good gig. Just ask him 4/21/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern
Being Regis Philbin is a full-time job. His day begins around 7:30 a.m. There's a quick glance at the New York Post, USA Today and Daily Variety. Next: a shower, some breakfast, and a walk across the street to the set of Live With Regis and Kelly. At about 8:25, he scans more newspapers for talk fodder, before producer Michael Gelman comes into his dressing room for a quick chat around 8:50.
Next is makeup, and 30 seconds before the show begins at 9, he knocks on co-host Kelly Ripa's door. “I never talk to her before the show about anything we are going to talk about,” he says. “That is something I learned years ago. What happens on the show is truly spontaneous and live.”
Regis and Kelly then take the stage to kibbitz in front of millions of people. After an hour of chatting with Ripa and a couple of celebrities, it's back to his office to make a few calls. Today, he needs to sort out details for his trip to Branson, Mo., that weekend, where he's scheduled to sing.
Then, Philbin is off to meet Alan Alda and Charles Grodin for lunch with someone who paid $10,000 in a charity's silent auction for the privilege. He hits the gym, then goes home to relax for a bit, and in the evening meets Tony Danza for dinner, where he will cheer up his old friend who just had his talk show cancelled. (Philbin talks about the dinner for 20 minutes on the next day's show.)
It's not a bad workday, but building the career that affords Philbin this lifestyle and earned him an induction this year into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame was no easy task.
While his success comes as a result of just being himself on camera, one of the most natural personalities on television had trouble when he started his first industry job, because he was too timid.
It was 1957, and Philbin had landed a job as an NBC page in New York. But the day he was supposed to begin, he sat outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, trying to summon up the courage to walk inside.
“I just sat on a bench,” he remembers. “I was too shy and nervous to go in.”
But he did, and two months later got an offer to move to Los Angeles and become a stagehand at KCOP, where he moved furniture around the sets and lived in a hotel for $12.50 a week.
Philbin would land a job as a sports news writer at the station before moving on-air, first at radio station KSON San Diego and then at TV station KFMB. A year after joining KFMB, KOGO (now KGTV) asked him to do the news there.
Philbin accepted, but with a caveat. “I said only if I can do a talk show,” he says. “I grew up telling stories in front of the candy store in the Bronx, and then to see Jack Parr and how easy he made it look, that's what kind of paved the way for me.”
So in October 1961, he began The Regis Philbin Show, a live Saturday-night talk show in front of a studio audience. It marked the beginning of his signature “host chat” motif.
“I would sit on a stool, look into the lens, and I would just tell them what I had seen and done throughout the week,” he says. “That is exactly what we do all these years later for the first 22 minutes of our show.”
Philbin would go national a few years later, moving back to L.A. to replace Steve Allen on a Westinghouse syndicated talk show. But the show was on a two-week tape delay, and it was never a fit for his conversational style.
He returned to local TV with a talk show on KTTV, which is where Rat Packer Joey Bishop saw him and gave him a job as an announcer on his ABC show in April 1967. After four years of that came talk shows on several Los Angeles stations.
He finally settled back in New York in 1983, when The Morning Show debuted on WABC. He was joined by Kathie Lee Gifford in 1985, and the show went into national syndication in 1988.
But he's also a game-show host, of course. His stardom grew even more when Who Wants To Be a Millionaire dominated the TV landscape after becoming a megahit on ABC in 1999.
Michael Davies, the game show's executive producer, says that what made Philbin click was that, much like on his talk show, he didn't put on an act when the camera went on.
“I don't believe there has been anybody in the history of television that's been better than Regis at just being himself,” Davies says.
These days, Philbin doesn't have time to watch much TV. He tries not to miss Seinfeld reruns and ESPN's Pardon the Interruption.
He is David Letterman's big fan, good friend and frequent guest. “Regis is the iron horse of broadcasting. There's nobody better,” says Letterman. “He's had television shows longer than most of us have had televisions. When Regis retires, I would like his job.”
So being Regis Philbin isn't such a bad job these days.
In fact, ask him what else he wants to do in the business, and he'll launch into a well-worn speech about having “climbed my mountain.”
Then again, if NBC were to call about doing play-by-play for his beloved Notre Dame (class of '53) football team, there might just be another mountain to climb.
“Now wait a minute, take it easy on me,” Philbin says. “If NBC wants to call, I'm available!”