DAVID BIANCULLI

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Today on NPR's 'Fresh Air': Regis and I Spend an Hour Talking about Old TV Times
November 15, 2011  | By David Bianculli
 
regis-kelly.jpg

In the midst of a crazy week, even for him, Regis Philbin sat down and carved out more than an hour yesterday to talk about his career, his future, and his new memoir, How I Got This Way. Our conversation airs today (Tuesday), as the featured interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. But there's one thing you won't hear during the broadcast version of our talk: my cell phone ringing...

Like most Fresh Air interviews, my talk with Regis was conducted in separate public radio studios: He was in New York, and I was at the Fresh Air home base at Philadelphia's WHYY. Little over an hour into our talk, when he was midway through an answer to my question about Kelly Ripa and Kathie Lee Gifford, my cell phone rang. For the first time in all my years of recording interviews, I had forgotten to turn it off.

Regis couldn't have been nicer, accepting my apology and picking up the answer precisely where he left off. But he couldn't have been more Regis-y, either. The part you won't hear on today's broadcast is Regis raising his voice to make fun of me. Not because the phone rang, but because it hadn't rung before in more than an hour.

"You're really popular, Bee-an-COOL-ee!" he shouted sarcastically, winding up with his voice to hit the third syllable of my name out of the park. He got a big hearty laugh from me for that one -- one of many. I've only interviewed him one-on-one one other time, at a lunch about a decade ago, but I really like the guy.

regis-and-joy.jpg

The day I shifted to the New York Daily News in 1993, after six years at the New York Post, I wrote a column introducing myself to my new readers, listing all sorts of shows I liked, disliked and watched. I identified Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee, in that first column, as a "Guilty Pleasure," and Regis, seated next to wife Joy that morning, called me out on TV that for feeling guilty. Own up to it!, he yelled.

And over the years -- especially once the delightful Kelly Ripa became his new co-host -- I did.

What I loved, and still love, about Regis is his comfort in front of the camera. One of the things he told me in our interview was that he couldn't remember the last time he was nervous before a show, and I believe him. But his ease, and his willingness to say what's on his mind most of the time, is his secret weapon.

I put him on a par with Paar -- Jack Paar -- and with another Paar acolyte, David Letterman. Those guys, along with current stream-of-consiousness TV master Craig Ferguson, are, like Regis Philbin, the best natural TV broadcasters of all time.

In his memoir, How I Got That Way (which you can buy HERE), Philbin talks about Paar, and Letterman. And even Joey Bishop, revealing the truth about a secret he's kept to himself for more than 40 years. He tells it to me on Fresh Air, too: Catch it HERE, once it's posted on their website.

Thanks, Reege. Talking to you, like watching you all these years, was a pleasure.

 

1 Comment

 

Eileen said:

I'll be listening to your NPR interview later today. I did watch Regis & David Letterman this morning, and it truly was a pleasure.

I've always been entertained by the chemistry Regis & Dave have together, and they are always fun to watch. The last few evenings on Late Show, David Letterman has been talking about his upcoming appearance on Live, and how nervous he was. Which is interesting, since they are always great together, be it on Late Show or on Live.

Regis is just an American Institution. I've followed him for years and long before he became a household word. There is just something about his delivery and his casual way of going about things that's so appealing.

I think what has always impressed me about Regis was that he never forgot his roots. Even playing Celebrity Jeopardy a few years back, the money he won went to his high school, Cardinal Hayes in the Bronx. Young men from the school were prominently featured in the audience; he's always been a vocal supporter & promoter of this school. Other celebrities would be wise to take a page from Regis' book and do something similar in their own childhood communities.

All the best to a great guy. I hope we hear more from Regis in the not too distant future.

[I suspect we will. I think the "walk away and never return" trick is one area in which Regis has no interest in emulating Johnny Carson. - DB]

Comment posted on November 16, 2011 1:00 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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