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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Life And Times Of Regis Philbin

I tend to work a lot of afternoon and evening shifts at my current 'real job' (also known as the job I do outside of blogging that I actually make money from). My schedule bounces around quite often with my job. Some days, I work from 7am-3pm. Some days, I work 2pm-10pm. There are some days in which I even work... knew I had to post that, didn't you?

At any rate, my schedule allows me to watch a bit of daytime television, and the only thing I have to say about the world of daytime television is, boy, oh, boy, is it trashy!

Well, okay, maybe not ALL of it is trashy. Certainly, I've briefly talked about how I developed a mild addiction to 'The Young And The Restless' when I was in college, and still watch the occasional episode today. Sure, some people may consider soap operas to be a bit on the trashy side, but a lot of people watched them.

I also like to tune in to the various game shows that air during the daytime slot.  The Price Is Right has been a favourite for many years, even now that Drew Carey has succeeded Bob Barker as host. And while some people have panned the remake of 'Let's Make A Deal', I don't mind Wayne Brady as host. And then there are all the daytime game shows of the past that I used to watch when I was sick from school or home for summer vacation. Shows like Supermarket Sweep, the daytime version of Wheel Of Fortune, and Chain Reaction.

Then there are all of those daytime talk shows. Boy, now those shows are something special, aren't they?

Certainly there are some rather decent ones such as the Ellen DeGeneres show.  And for those who want to cook and redecorate their homes, there's a purpose for shows such as Rachael Ray and the Nate Berkus show.

It hasn't been until the last few years that talk shows have gotten to the point where they just almost seem like parodies of their former selves.

(In fact, stay tuned for next Tuesday's entry, for a bigger discussion on these talk shows...I'm sure that there will be a lot of discussion indeed).

For now, I want to focus on a now former talk show host who many in the industry have declared a real class act. I tend to agree with those people. His career in television spanned several decades, and not only broke records, but smashed right through them! He sang, he hosted talk shows, he hosted game shows, he hosted reality shows. Is there any show he HASN'T been a part of?

At the age of 80, this man definitely started at the bottom and clawed his way to the top, and managed to gain quite a few fans in the process.

The subject for today's blog post is Regis Philbin. And on November 18, 2011, Regis made his final appearance as host of Live With Regis And Kelly. In fact, you can watch his goodbye message below.

Would you believe that Regis' career managed to span a total of SEVEN decades? Working steadily since the late 1950s and retiring in 2011, Regis Philbin's life in front of the camera has been quite dominant to say the least. In fact, in 2004, Regis Philbin surpassed former 20/20 anchor Hugh Downs as logging the most hours in front of a camera in the Guinness Book Of World Records. As of September 2009, Regis Philbin's total hours in front of a television camera was well over sixteen THOUSAND hours...a record that as of 2011 remains unbroken. That's quite an achievement, and I don't think that anybody else could stand a chance of breaking it.

Well, unless American Idol host Ryan Seacrest finds a way to live to be 130.

Whatever the case, part of the reason Regis maintained such longevity in the entertainment industry is because of his personality and warmth on screen, and a lot of people in the entertainment industry have nothing but high praise of the man.

And I think I know the reason why Regis Philbin seems to be held in such high regard by people all over the world...and it kind of ties in to a life lesson for today's blog.

That lesson is: If you want something bad enough, you have to work for it.

It's a lesson that I believe to be true. If someone wants something, they have to earn it. A very fitting lesson given the Occupy Wall Street movements happening all over the world, wouldn't you say?

But seriously here, Regis Philbin's story is one that is quite an interesting read.

Born Regis Francis Xavier Philbin on August 25, 1931 in New York City, Regis's upbringing was not uncommon from anyone else born during the 1930s. He was a member of the Class of '49 from Cardinal Hayes High School, graduated from Notre Dame University in 1953, and immediately enlisted in the United States Navy as a Supply Officer (which made sense, given that Regis' father was in the Marines). After his stint was over, he did a lot of behind-the-scenes work in the radio and television industry during the late 1950s. Which if you look at it is the way that most of us probably started our jobs. I know when I started in my current job, I did all the jobs that nobody else really wanted to do. But that was fine, because there was always the opportunity at moving up, especially if you did the job well.

For Regis, his move up the ladder began right around the time the 1960s began.   

He started off as a page for The Tonight Show, and from there ended up as a writer for then Los Angeles based talk show host Tom Duggan. As it turned out, this gig would inevitably lead to Regis' first on-camera appearance as a host. As it so happened, one night in 1962, Tom Duggan didn't show up for his show (rumour had it that he was a binge drinker, and was too drunk to appear on stage), and since talk shows back in those days were almost always filmed live, the producers needed someone to fill in.

Enter Regis Philbin.

Mind you, when Regis was put on camera to host someone else's show, he was a bundle of nerves, and probably wasn't at his best, but it definitely got people talking.

By 1964, Regis Philbin had taken over hosting the late night Westinghouse Tonight Show from Hollywood, after Steve Allen vacated the host position. Alas, the audience didn't warm up to Regis, and Regis' stint only lasted a few weeks. But this didn't stop Phibin one bit. He had the opportunity to host his own show, based out of San Diego, California, and because the show was so low-budget, he couldn't afford to hire writers. As a result, the first segments of his show were dedicated towards something known as a 'Host Chat', where he would interact with the audience over current events...a trait that ended up being used in some of Regis' future talk show projects. But even Regis had trouble getting an audience for all of his efforts.

But then a man named Joey Bishop walked into Regis' life one day in 1967. Joey Bishop had asked Regis to become his sidekick on his own talk show, The Joey Bishop Show, which ran for two years. If one were to have watched the show back when it aired, people may have confused the two with the popular team of Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, as Bishop and Philbin traded barbs with each other all the time. For a while, it was playful banter, and both Bishop and Philbin seemed to enjoy working together.

Unfortunately, ABC executives didn't see the humour. In fact, it was reported that Regis Philbin had learned that they didn't like Philbin's thick New York accent, and felt that his work on the show was substandard. This really had hurt Regis' feelings, and one night in 1968, he actually walked off the set and quit on air! For a while, it seemed as though Regis' career was over, but one person refused to give up on Regis.

Joey Bishop.

After a long talk with Joey, and after Joey convinced Regis that he WAS wanted on the show, and that none of the barbs against him were personal, Regis returned to the show a few days later. Ironically enough, when Joey Bishop got the word that his show was going to be pulled off the air in 1969, Bishop actually walked off the air unannounced himself, leaving Philbin to successfully host the rest of the show.

Definitely one of the strangest experiences that Philbin encountered, but it put his name on the map, and this experience would lead to many future opportunities for Philbin to hone his craft of being a successful talk show host.

During the mid-1970s, Philbin got the opportunity to host a show based out of Los Angeles entitled A.M. Los Angeles. He worked with female co-hosts Sarah Purcell (1975-1978) and Cyndy Garvey (1978-1981). And Regis' presence on the show helped it tremendously. In 1975, the show was at the bottom of the ratings, but it eventually became the number one morning show broadcast in Los Angeles at the time. What makes this even more spectacular was the fact that each weekend, Regis was commuting to St. Louis to host a late night weekend talk show! That's a lot of dedication.

Also in 1981, Regis Philbin teamed up with Mary Hart to host a morning variety series for NBC, but that show only lasted four and a half months. Nevertheless, it was just months after that show aired that Mary Hart would get her big break hosting Entertainment Tonight for some thirty years.

For Philbin, his most remembered contribution to the world of television would also come shortly after the cancellation of his NBC morning show.

In 1982, Regis Philbin relocated to New York City to rejoin his former co-host Cyndy Garvey to host ABC's The Morning Show, after Garvey had moved to New York a year earlier. At the time, the show was undergoing some really stiff competition from game shows and other morning program that was extremely popular in the ratings. Also, the show had to compete against the wildly popular talk show Donahue.

It wasn't until 1985 that the show began to have a fighting chance against those shows. And all it took was the right co-host. After Garvey left the morning show, and was briefly replaced by Ann Abernathy, Regis met his third co-host on the show. A young woman named Kathie Lee Johnson.

Who most of you probably know better by her married name of Kathie Lee Gifford.

Now, I know what you're saying, and I know that some of you have your own feelings about Kathie Lee Gifford, but this note isn't about Kathie Lee, so we'll keep that to ourselves. At any rate, Kathie Lee became Regis' co-host in June of 1985, and the ratings improved significantly when she took on the helm. Why? Because Regis and Kathie Lee had some wicked chemistry with each other. Here's a clip of both of them in action below.

Regis' good fortune would continue in the fall of 1988. That was the time in which Live With Regis and Kathie Lee began to air in syndication, and by 1991, when A.M. Los Angeles was cancelled, the show immediately took over the 9am slot in almost every ABC market in the United States. The show also began to air in Canada on CTV. This was the moment that Regis Philbin officially became a household name, and this was only scratching the surface.

In 1999, Regis took on another role. This time, he served as host of a British import game show entitled 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?'. The quiz show debuted during the summer of 1999, and became an instant hit for several years. In fact, I even tried out to be a part of the Canadian version of the show, but alas, I never got a call back. Still though, back in 1999, I remember that Millionaire was one of my favourite shows back around that time, and Regis was a great host. Watch this clip of him in action.

Regis would get another opportunity to host another game show for CBS in the late 00s when he became the host of the show Million Dollar Password.

In 2000, Kathie Lee Gifford made the decision to leave Live With Regis and Kathie Lee, and during the last half of 2000, the show temporarily changed its name to Live With Regis. Initially, the producers and audience were worried that Kathie Lee's departure would negatively affect the ratings, and a search for a new co-host was immediately launched.

By February 2001, Regis had selected soap opera actress Kelly Ripa to serve as his new permanent co-host, and the show's name was changed again to Live With Regis and Kelly. And in this case, lightning proved to strike twice, as viewers warmed up to the fantastic chemistry that Regis seemed to share with his co-star. But, hey, judge for yourself.

And Regis' career didn't just stop there. Regis filled in for Dick Clark for the Rockin' New Years Eve special to ring in the year 2005 after Clark suffered a devastating stroke. He also had a recurring role on Kelly Ripa's sitcom 'Hope & Faith' as a used car salesman named Handsome Hal. He also made guest appearances on The Simpsons, Spin City, How I Met Your Mother, Mad About You, Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show... see how all those hours in front of the camera added up?

And, might I also add that during his career, he fathered four children, and was married twice?  His current wife Joy, occasionally co-hosted with him whenever Kathie Lee or Kelly were away, and you can tell just how much they love each other just by watching them interact with each other.

So, as Regis settles into live after Live, while Kelly Ripa now finds herself in the search for a new co-host, I wanted to write this blog about him because I think having a career as rewarding and exciting as he has is worth writing about, and I think it gives all of us some motivation to go after our dreams the way Regis did himself.

After all, we all start at the bottom...well, unless you were born a Trump, that is...

...still, it's worth the ride. I know Regis Philbin enjoyed it while it lasted.

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