When Regis Philbin earlier this year announced he was leaving his talk show “Live With Regis & Kelly” talk show, many observers thought he was retiring, perhaps disappearing from the public eye the way Johnny Carson did.
But the emphatically upbeat 80-year-old (who could pass for 60) said his career is not ending, even if Friday is his final day on the show. ABC, he said, simply didn’t offer him a good contract.
“Rather than get involved with another year-deal or whatever they wanted, I made up my mind to leave ABC,” Philbin said in an interview Tuesday by phone on his way from Manhattan to a New Jersey book signing for “How I Got This Way,” his latest memoir. “I didn’t walk away. They offered me something. The contract wasn’t that alluring.”
Speculation is now rife that another network or syndicator might pick him up and give him another show.
“I’m sure we’ll see Regis somewhere else,” said Bill Carroll, vice president of programming at Katz Television Group, a media buying and consulting group. He thinks Philbin was insulted by Disney/ABC’s offer, considering how much money he has made for the network during his 23 years in syndication. “I understood that ABC felt like it needed to move on but this was not a classy way to do it,” he said. (A spokeswoman for the show declined to comment.)
Ratings for “Live” have continued to be strong, averaging about 3.5 million viewers a day.
Phibin’s book is shaped through the lens of 31 people he admired. They range from early talk show legends Steve Allen and Jack Paar to co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelly Ripa to celebrity buddies such as David Letterman and George Clooney.
On Sunday, Philbin He will be at the annual Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) to talk about his book, his career and whatever comes to his mind. He touted the appearance on his show Wednesday morning. “Everyone raves about this book festival,” he told Ripa. “Regis is talking!”
Here’s what he discussed with me Tuesday:
AJC: How are you feeling today?
Philbin: I’m trying to get out of my office I’ve lived in for 28 years. It’s more than I thought it would be with all the pictures and books and things people have sent me I don’t want to throw out. It’s incredible.”
AJC: And now you’re jumping straight into a book tour.
Philbin. We went to Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue earlier today. We had a wonderful turnout. It’s kind of sad to come face to face with people who told me how much they’re going to miss me.
AJC: You’ve written two books about yourself before. Why a third?
Philbin: It wasn’t meant to be a book. I started to write little memoirs to myself of people I’ve met along the way. I didn’t want to forget as I entered my elderly years. One day, I went to HarperCollins to welcome Susan Lucci, an old pal of mine… Someone asked whether I had any books up my sleeve. I mentioned that I was writing about people in my life that meant something to me. We pursued it. It became a book. That’s how it happened!
AJC: You had that infamous walk-off from “The Joey Bishop Show” [in 1968.] This book finally lays out the truth that it was all an act. Why did you fake people out for so long?
Philbin: For years, I told the story the way it came across on television. It was all Joey Bishop’s idea and I didn’t want to mar his name. But everybody involved is gone. What difference does it make now?
AJC: You thrive on spontaneous conversation. Have you considered going into acting?
Philbin: I’ve done a little here and there over the years. My first acting assignment was on ‘The Big Valley,” a western in the 1960s with Barbara Stanwyck. I was a reporter talking to her about the ranch… I probably would take a crack at it. But don’t hold your breath. Hollywood is filled with far younger and more attractive people.
AJC: How about another game show? [Philbin was host of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" from 1999 to 2002.]
Philbin: Game shows have come up. But nothing has really excited me the way ‘Millionaire” did.
AJC: In your book, you said the last time you were unemployed in the early 1980s, you became addicted to Pac-Man. What hobbies will you pursue now if you take some time off?
Philbin: I exercise three or four times a week. I love playing tennis. I love going to Florida in the winter to play the game. I’m looking forward to relaxing.
AJC: Are you going to cry the last day?
Philbin: Regis will not cry. He’s a grown-up adult! I’ve never cried on TV. Choked up sometimes. Never cried!
Regis Philbin signs “How I Got This Way”
3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, Zaban Park, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. 678-812-4005, www.atlantajcc.org.
“Live With Regis & Kelly”
(Regis Philbin’s final day on the show.)
9 a.m., Friday, ABC.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk