And Regis makes three

Three of syndication’s biggest names are leaving their shows at the end of this season: Oprah Winfrey, Mary Hart and now Regis Philbin.

That these three people have all chosen to — choose your word – retire, move on, depart – marks the end of an era. But it also demonstrates that it’s hard to keep a successful show down: Winfrey’s empire is moving over to her new eponymous cable network, OWN, where she’s sure to show up once her syndicated show ends in September. Hart is moving on after 29 years on Entertainment Tonight , but that show will continue, with entertainment news vet Nancy O’Dell taking over for Hart. And while Live with Regis and Kelly will hardly be the same without Regis, the show will go on with someone else sitting next to the effervescent Kelly Ripa.

Still, daytime TV won’t feel at all the same without these three, each of whom has hosted his or her respective show for at least a quarter of a century.

In particular, it’s hard to imagine daytime without Philbin, who has come to personify the art of live television. And while Philbin is known for his long run on Live, it wasn’t always that way. He had to work as hard as anyone to make his name in television.

Regis, as everyone refers to him, has always preferred his television live, but he got his start in late night. He’s been on the syndication circuit since 1964, when he hosted the first of many interations of The Regis Philbin Show. Regis had been hosting a live, late-night, weekly TV show on local San Diego TV station, KOGO, and was hired by Westinghouse to replace the venerable Steve Allen. The first Regis Philbin Show only lasted a year, but it was really only the beginning of a career almost entirely centered around live television.

Regis, now 79, first came to broadcasting in the late 50s, after he left the Navy and got a job as a sports writer for KCOP Los Angeles. His first on-air job was as a reporter, anchor and late-night host on KFMB and then KOGO San Diego, a market in which he worked until 1966.

After his syndicated Westinghouse show was canceled, Regis relocated permanently to Los Angeles to host another iteration of The Regis Philbin Show, this time for KTTV. He also served as Joey Bishop’s sidekick on ABC’s The Joey Bishop Show, which aired daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., from April 17, 1967 to December 26, 1969.

From 1969-70, he hosted another late-night show, Philbin’s People, an hour-long Saturday night program that aired from 10 to 11 p.m. on KHJ Los Angeles. In 1970, he took his first shot at daytime, hosting a show on KHJ called Tempo live each weekday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. That show ran for three years, ending in 1973.

From 1972 – 75, he took one more foray into late night, with a one-hour live to tape program, Regis Philbin’s Saturday Night in St. Louis, airing on KMOV St. Louis. He commuted from Los Angeles to St. Louis every weekend to do the program.

He joined KABC Los Angeles in 1974 as an entertainment and film reporter. In 1975, he began the career that we know him for today, becoming the host of the station’s A.M. Los Angeles, first with Sarah Purcell and then with Cyndy Garvey.

That show aired out of Los Angeles until 1981, when Garvey married and moved to New York. Regis hosted several other shows during this time, included a nationally syndicated and short-lived talk show for NBC that was co-hosted by Mary Hart and aired from January – April 1982.

In 1983, Regis rejoined Garvey to resurrect their morning chemistry for WABC New York. Just as it had in Los Angeles, The Morning Show quickly gained popularity. Today’s Live with Regis and Kelly is the grandchild of that program, which was hosted by Garvey from 1983-84; Ann Abernathy from 84-85; and finally, Kathie Lee Gifford in 1985.

Gifford’s arrival shot the show’s ratings into the stratosphere, and ABC decided to take it into national syndication in 1988, renaming it Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. Gifford remained with Live for 15 years, finally departing in 2000. After an extensive and public search, Kelly Ripa was named Regis’ new co-host in 2001, a role Ripa seemed to fill effortlessly. All told, Philbin will have hosted the nationally syndicated version of Live for 23 years, and 28 years when the show’s five years on WABC are included.

Just one show – even a live, daily one — never seemed enough for Philbin. He earned some of his best ratings ever hosting ABC’s hit primetime game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire from 1999-2003. With that success, primetime games became kind of a new career for Philbin, then in his 70s, hosting Million Dollar Password, America’s Got Talent and Super Millionaire during the past decade.

Who knows what’s next for Regis – the almost-80-year-old says he’s moving on, not retiring, God forbid. But the bigger question is what’s next for Live. Replacing Kathie Lee was hard enough, although Live’s whiz-bang EP Michael Gelman certainly pulled it off with Kelly Ripa. But Regis? Irreplaceable.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.