Regis Philbin starts the final week of his morning show today, the end of a remarkable half-century of television broadcasting that puts him near the top of the medium’s all-time greatest performers, perhaps right behind Johnny Carson. In addition to being the Guinness record-holder for most hours in front of a TV camera, he may also hold the record for the person who most often referred to himself in the third person.
Many people do not understand how hard it is to do what Regis does every day. It looks like he just wakes up, comes to work, and talks. It looks so easy because of Regis’ talent, and because of the prep work done by producer Michael Gelman and his staff — lining up guests, arranging wacky stunts, providing news clippings to discuss, etc. But you can have all of those elements and still not find the magic that occurs with Regis every time the red light goes on.
A true broadcaster, he’s proven himself not just as a host, but as a guest, too (has anyone appeared with David Letterman more often?), not to mention acting as emcee for game shows, parades, pageants, commercials — the man even saved primetime for ABC with the original “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” phenomenon. He’s also a very generous broadcaster, more than happy to share airtime with co-hosts like Kelly Ripa and Kathie Lee Gifford, who he turned into stars. That’s a rarity in a business where stars rarely like to see the spotlight on anyone but themselves.
I was always happy to have Regis as a guest on my radio shows. He never wanted to know ahead of time what we’d talk about, but could wing it on any subject I threw at him. Sometimes, he’d just make a cameo appearance to announce the prize for some contest we were doing. Others, he’d come on to promote yet another new project he was involved in. But most of the time, he just wanted to be part of the fun.