Philbin, Regis

Philbin, Regis
▪ 2001

      In 2000 television personality and game-show host Regis Philbin sparked a resurgence in television game shows and in the process became the biggest winner of all. With his unabashed enthusiasm and Everyman quality—at times he mispronounced answers—Philbin helped make Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? a phenomenon in the United States and turned “Is that your final answer?” into a national catchphrase. Based on the British program of the same name, Millionaire debuted in American homes in 1999 and touched off a flurry of rival quiz shows. None of the challengers, however, could match its level of success. Millionaire dominated ratings, averaging some 28 million viewers per episode, and made ABC the most-watched network on television. It also established Philbin as one of the small screen's most popular personalities, and in March 2000 it was announced that he had been given a new contract, reported to be worth nearly $20 million a year, to remain with the program. In addition, Philbin kept his day job, cohosting Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee. After Kathie Lee Gifford left the program in July, Philbin continued the popular morning talk show.

      Born on Aug. 25, 1934, in New York City, Regis Francis Xavier Philbin was an avid weight lifter as a teenager; he later boxed while attending the University of Notre Dame, from which he graduated in 1953 with a degree in sociology. After a short stint with the U.S. Navy, Philbin settled in Los Angeles and found work in the television industry as a stagehand and later as a news writer. He soon moved in front of the camera and in 1961 began hosting The Regis Philbin Show, a late-night program that was nationally syndicated during the 1964–65 season as That Regis Philbin Show. After appearing as an announcer and sidekick on The Joey Bishop Show (1967–69), Philbin helmed a series of programs, including A.M. Los Angeles (1975–81), before becoming cohost in 1983 of New York City's The Morning Show. Ratings of the struggling show began to climb, and, with the addition of Kathie Lee Gifford in 1985, Morning became a huge success. Much of its popularity centred on the on-air chemistry between Philbin and Gifford. The duo's unscripted banter during the opening chat sequence was a highlight of the show, and Philbin became noted for his comical complaining and crankiness. In 1988 the program was nationally syndicated as Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee. Focusing on celebrity interviews and home-oriented advice, Live attracted one of the fastest-growing American talk-show audiences in the early 1990s.

      A confessed workaholic, Philbin also appeared in movies and on television sitcoms. He was coauthor of several cookbooks with Gifford, and his memoir, I'm Only One Man!, was published in 1996. A regular guest on Late Show with David Letterman, he also became one of that program's guest hosts, filling in for an ailing Letterman in February 2000.

Amy Tikkanen

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Universalium. 2010.

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