Regis Philbin’s devoted fans have one question for the iconic TV host, who said yesterday he’s quitting his morning talk show after 28 years: Is that your final answer?
Well, are you ready for this? It sure looks that way.
“This will be my last year on the show,” the endearingly excitable Philbin, 79, said in his surprise announcement yesterday on “Live! with Regis and Kelly.”
“There is a time that everything must come to an end for certain people on camera — especially certain old people,” he quipped.
But as Philbin’s departure in the late summer or fall nears, speculation will only grow about who can replace him in his famous seat, easily one of TV’s highest-profile gigs. And maybe replace is the wrong word.
“When an iconic figures like Regis leaves, you don’t try to replace him. You just can’t,” said David Buschman, television curator at the Paley Media Center.
Over the years the show has seen a slew of guest co-hosts, many of whom are thought of as would-be Regis successors. Jeff Probst, Neil Patrick Harris, Pat Sajak and co-host Kelly Ripa’s husband Mark Consuelos are thought to be in the running.
Ripa, 40, in fact, was apparently told about the announcement just 15 minutes before Regis made it yesterday, but reports said she “wasn’t upset.”
Still, generating anything like that Regis magic — and especially that affectionate chemistry with his co-host — will be no easy task.
“He’s in a category of his own,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “He has this everyman quality. He’s both the squarest and hippest guy on television, and that makes him impossible not to like.”
Tim Stack, a TV writer for Entertainment Weekly, agreed, and said it’s too early for a frontrunner replacement to emerge.
“At this point I think everyone’s still a little shocked about it,” he said. “It’s a big change. It just seemed like he’d be doing it forever.”
No one is officially in the running yet, but the experts say some potential candidates already look better than others.
“Probst has done very well at guest hosting,” Stack said. “I love Kelly and Mark, but I think it’s better having some people that don’t live together, even just in terms of interesting conversation.”
Buschman added that if the show goes with someone younger, big changes are in store.
“A lot of the guys people are talking about are much younger, and that would bring a new dynamic to the show,” Bushman added “Neil Patrick Harris is so multitalented he would be great for the role, but I’m not sure how he’d pull it off with his other roles.”
After Philbin's long run with Kathie Lee Gifford, Ripa signed on in 2001, following a nationwide search for a co-host. ABC declined to comment how it will replace the three-time Emmy-winning Philbin.
But no matter who comes in, Stack said Philbin will always be in the spotlight.
“Regis is one of those people that will always be around, he’s a television icon,” Stack said.
“There can only ever be one Regis,” he said. “We don’t even need to say his last name.”
Talk show host, game show emcee, subject of Dana Carvey imitation, commercial pitchman for TD Bank — Regis Philbin has done it all. Here are some highlights:
1931: Philbin is born — the Bronx native never loses his accent
1949: Graduates from Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx
1964: Started TV talk show “The Regis Philbin Show”
1967: Became sidekick on “The Joey Bishop Show”
1975: Began co-hosting TV talk show A.M. Los Angeles
1983: Joins “The Morning Show” on WABC/Ch. 7
1985: Kathie Lee Gifford joined “The Morning Show”
1988: “The Morning Show” renamed “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” and goes national
1999: Began hosting “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
2000-01: Kathie Lee departs and Kelly Ripa joins, and the show is renamed “Live! with Regis and Kelly”
2004: Dethrones Hugh Downs for Guinness record of longest time before a TV camera.
2007: Undergoes successful heart bypass surgery