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October 31, 2014

Regis Philbin: A Look Back At His Epic TV Career

by Alex Moaba, posted Nov 18th 2011 9:00AM
Regis Philbin has logged more hours in front of a television camera than anyone else in history. So what's the secret of his longevity? Well, for four decades, he has cheerfully and tirelessly invited audiences to laugh not just with him but at him. In a nice way.

Although Regis insists that 'Live,' which he departs from today, won't be the final act of his TV career, now still feels like an appropriate time to take a step back and consider the legacy of the most lovable, excitable, and enduring television icon ever to refer to himself -- regularly -- in the third person.

Regis honed his self-deprecating humor as Joey Bishop's sidekick on 'The Joey Bishop Show' in the late 60s. Bishop would throw friendly barbs Regis' way, and it was his job to take them in stride, laughing at himself for the sake of the audience. But the insults didn't always roll off his back; during one episode, aired live in 1968, Regis stormed off the set after delivering an angry rant concerning rumors that he was weighing down the show. He returned after an outpouring of fan support, and the incident helped catapult his career to a new level.

Video of the walk-out isn't available online, but in this extant clip, Bishop and an incredibly young-looking Regis show off their new Nehru jackets -- which were all the rage at the time.


After 'The Joey Bishop Show' was canceled in late 1969, Philbin shifted his focus from late-night to morning shows, hosting several local wake-up programs, most notably 'A.M. Los Angeles,' which aired on KABC-TV from 1975-1981. He got a brief glimpse of the national spotlight again in 1981, when he co-hosted a morning variety show on NBC with future 'Entertainment Tonight' host Mary Hart, but it only lasted for four months.

The next major break in Regis' career came in 1985, when he was paired with Kathie Lee Johnson on WABC-TV's 'The Morning Show.' Their chemistry was obvious immediately, and viewers responded to the dynamic between them. Ratings steadily increased, and the show went national in 1988, eventually morphing into 'Live With Regis and Kathie Lee,' which became a beloved daytime TV staple and one of the highest-rated morning shows on TV.


Then came 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire,' which brought Regis to prime time -- and gave him that ultimate celebrity accoutrement: a catch phrase. The trivia game show debuted to boffo ratings in 1999, and his "Is that your final answer?" line soon found its way into the mouths of every water-cooler cut-up in America. It was also during this time that Regis became the nation's least likely fashion icon. Following Regis' lead, (or was it Tony Soprano's?) men everywhere began wearing mono-chrome shirts and ties to weddings and bar mitzvahs.



Regis's age finally began to catch up with him in 2001, when the young and bubbly Kelly Ripa replaced Kathie Lee Gifford his 'Live' co-host. Naturally, he embraced his role as America's goofy yet endearing daytime grandfather.

His advancing age led to hilarious moments, as he was confronted each morning with an ever-shifting, ever-bewildering pop-culture landscape. Justin Bieber, in particular, fascinated him -- he seemed utterly unable to fathom what the diminutive Canadian could have done to become so popular. He botched dozens of celebrity's names and constantly battled technology, abruptly quitting Twitter after trying it for about a week.


But does your grandfather know who Justin Bieber is, or how to Tweet? Probably not. Then again, he also most likely doesn't have celebrities stopping by every day to talk about the issues of the day on live television. But Regis embraced being out-of-touch, and his "old man moments" became a staple of the show's appeal. He reveled in his cultural blind spots, and they made for excellent television, because Regis was always willing to be share a laugh with the audience, even one that came at his own expense.


In the run-up to his retirement from 'Live,' ABC has feted Regis with a parade of retrospectives, montages and celebrity tributes. Regis has insisted that he's not retiring from TV, but no concrete projects have yet materialized. He reportedly filmed the pilot of a reality show only to conclude that the genre isn't for him. In recent days, he's joked about being the next Andy Rooney, wanting to be featured on the last five minutes of someone else's show. Something tells us we haven't seen the last of Reeg.

As the end of this era, at least, draws near, commentators and comedians from all corners have weighed in on his legacy. Time Magazine called him the King. Letterman compared him to Johnny Carson. Jerry Seinfeld, who will fill in as a temporary host on 'Live,' jokingly compared him to the New York subway system, saying, "He's just there, he just kind of takes up peoples' time."

The only thing we know for sure is that the daytime TV landscape won't be the same without him.

The Life and Career of Regis Philbin

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18 Comments

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bettye198

God we love him. What a crackup! Can anyone out there equal his insane humor and gestures?

November 18 2011 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
walter"BIG TONY"

tried for 4 hours to get back on my e mail address

November 18 2011 at 2:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
GLORIA

Regis represents so many of us aging populace. He (we) still have a lot of life and happiness within our own skins. Maybe we don't understand the texting to someone you are sitting next to, and lots of other technology stuff, but we are happy people who can sit back or take on what ever comes our way ! You go , Regis. A great entertainer and lovable person ! Best wishes with what ever you decide to do ! Go ND !

November 18 2011 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Roger Zapata Sr

I whan`t to know where is the news from Los Alamitos del 640 batalion from nov-17-11 thank you.

November 18 2011 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chippolito

Yes jm, how can they forget Cindy Garvey....no mention of her at all. Why?

November 18 2011 at 12:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mariannsuriani

regis made me laugh when i felt like dying, 43 a stroke and in a nursing home ...

November 18 2011 at 12:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jmfabianorpl

Kathie Lee wasn't Regis' first co-host. That distinction belongs to Cindy Garvey.

November 18 2011 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
TwilightLuv

im 22 and i like regis. he's funny

November 18 2011 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
houndmaster

Regis has had a long and illustrious career which demonstrated that every once in a while, nice guys do finish first. Continued health and happiness.

November 18 2011 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kupkchang

Class Act!!!

November 18 2011 at 12:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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