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The long goodbye leads to ratings hike

If only Kathie Lee could leave every week. The last lap of her co-starring run on Buena Vista's syndicated chat series Live with Regis and Kathie Lee was tracking to wrap Friday with "outrageously large numbers," said Lloyd Komesar, the studio's senior vice president for strategic research.

In top markets New York and Los Angeles, Live blew by the talk circuit's reigning queen Oprah for the first three days of the week ended July 30, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Live, airing on WABC-TV New York, racked up a 7.7 rating/24 share on Monday, 7.3/21 Tuesday and 7.6/21 Wednesday. In contrast, Oprah posted in that same city a 6.7/17 Monday, 4.6/12 Tuesday and 6.4/14 Wednesday.

It was more of the same on KABC-TV Los Angeles, with Live grabbing a 7.1/22 Monday, 5.7/17 Tuesday and 7.4/21 Wednesday. Oprah brought in a 6.7/18 Monday, 5.5/14 Tuesday and 7.0/18 Wednesday.

To compare, during the most recent ratings period (week ended July 16) Live snagged a 3.6 among national households, whereas Oprah earned a 5.8. Likewise, for Wednesday's averaged metered markets, Live (6.1/20) edged out Oprah (6.0/15).

"We thought there would be a bump, no question," said Komesar. "Nonetheless, it's really nice to see people rallying to the show-all this in the dead of summer."

The marks for Live are more impressive, considering that it airs during morning hours vs. Oprah's wider-watched afternoon daypart.

Tellingly, Komesar was sad but not devastated about Gifford's departure.

"I've looked at the ratings when we've had some substitute hosts, and we've seen some good numbers," he noted.

With Regis Philbin's Millionaire-mounting popularity, the world does seem fascinated by who will be deemed fit to be his next partner. Live producers have been mum on their favorites, but 20-plus names have been floated-everyone from Cindy Crawford to KTTV(TV) Los Angeles anchor Jillian Barberie to Ally McBeal co-star Jane Krakowski.

Summing up the situation, Komesar said, "Kathie ain't coming back no more. The audience is looking at the people that have come on [the show], and they're saying, 'Is she the one, is she the one?' I like our chances to do pretty strong ratings."