Gelman Talks Back

Regis showrunner on keeping program fresh

Since debuting as The Morning Show 23 years ago on WABC New York, Regis Philbin's daily talk-variety program has outlasted some 60-70 other talk shows. While the newcomers get the attention each fall, it's Philbin's program that ends up among the talk leaders each year.

Michael Gelman came on as executive producer in 1987, and The Morning Show morphed into the nationally syndicated Live With brand in 1988. Produced by WABC and distributed nationally by Disney's Buena Vista Television, Live With Regis and Kelly showed improved ratings during the first two weeks of the new season. That includes a 13% rise (1.5 to 1.7) in women 18-49, a significant achievement for a mature program with an equally mature audience.

Gelman, the target of Philbin's constant on-air “Gelman!” shouts, speaks to B&C's Jim Benson about keeping the show fresh and how long Philbin will front it.

Do you ever change the way you produce the show depending on what competition comes along?

We try to do what we do and not worry about the competition. They are the ones who always look at what we are doing.

What changes are you making this year?

I'm really a believer that, on a hit show like this, which is all about habit viewing, viewers don't want to see revolutionary changes. We make minor tweaks each year, like changing one side of the set, using different shots, [altering] contests.

How significant a role did Kelly Ripa play in lowering your demos during her five years there?

Our demos started getting younger around the time we were leading up to the farewell for Kathie Lee [Gifford], and they got better when Kelly arrived. But the whole way demos are measured has changed along with people meters. And now there is new competition for the same younger demos with all the alternative electronic media.

Still, the greatest factor in our ratings is the weather. Last year, it was one of the mildest winters on record in the Northeast, and it hurt our numbers. We usually have a few big snow storms.

What if it's January and Philbin gets snowed in when he needs to be in Los Angeles to host NBC's America's Got Talent?

Regis is committed to this show. It's his first priority. They will work their schedule around ours and his availability. He is going to be here, so it's not a worry for me at all right now. But the weather issue may be a worry for them, with the show shooting in California.

Whose decision was it to reduce Regis' schedule to four days per week this past year, and is there any sort of transition plan in place?

The request was his. He wanted to have Fridays off. Regis is the king, as he will tell you. He's the entire basis for this show. He's an old-time storyteller and entertainer, and there is no one like him.

He has a new long-term deal in place. I expect to have him around many more years.