Regis Philbin -- one of the legendary hosts of talk show history, who built a franchise ("Live!") and perfected a genre within a genre (the "host chat" segment") -- is joining the fourth hour of "Today" as a contributor, NBC announced.
His return to morning TV -- expected, by the way, or rumored since his various recent guest stints on "Today" (and on the "Musical") -- was announced on the show Thursday morning, while co-executive producer Tammy Filler said this in a statement:
"Regis brings his legendary charm and humor each time he visits 'Today.' His energy is infectious, and when Regis is around, you never know what will happen."
You never do. (Who recalls Reeg's last appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman"?) But he is a classic -- someone who works in front of a camera as effortlessly as anyone ever has, and who has a bountiful natural charm that makes the word "infectious" seem inadequate. This is a terrific move for "Today," and of course it means a reunion with Kathie Lee Gifford -- which just might spark all of those old rumors/tabloid reports that the two of them couldn't stand to be in the same building together. (I never believed those, by the way -- Philbin gets along with everyone, although back in the day, KLG could be quite the diva; I assume she's mellowed -- what with all that wine.)
This will also revive NBC hallway speculation that Hoda Kotb will be moving up at "Today"; she is a real up-and-comer at "Today" and there has been speculation for weeks that her promotion to the 7-9 a.m. franchise was just a matter of time. Could this hire be the open door she and NBC have been waiting for? (She won't replace anyone on "Today" if that were to happen, but would be added as a third co-host.)
Maybe ... but keep in mind that Regis, bless him, will be 84 in August. He may have many years of work ahead of him, and let's hope he does. But from a pure advertising "demographic" standpoint, TV has a well-established bias against octogenarian hosts. (Michael Strahan replaced him at "Live!," and the ratings did improve.)
Reeg left "Live!" in 2011 after a 28-year run. (He and KLG were together there from 1986 to 2000.) He had been on TV in some capacity for over half a century. He's been busy (a presence on Fox Sports) but far from ubiquitous. And now, the king is back.