Recently by Gary North: Boomer Blindness
I am not a big Regis Philbin fan. The only time I watched one of his shows was on Friday night – his final show. I had set the machine to record it show that morning. In his total career, I had watched him for fewer than 15 minutes. This gives you some indication of my commitment to Mr. Philbin.
I wish I had seen his first on-camera performance. It lasted 15 minutes.
I grew up in southern California. The least watched TV station in the region was KCOP – channel 13 – which was appropriately numbered. The station was always trying to find performers who could attract a large audience. It never did.
One of KCOP’s celebrities in the mid-1950s was a lively talk show host named Tom Duggan. I did not watch him until the early 1960s, when I was in college. By then he had switched to a rival station. At KCOP he had two shows: an evening show and a 15-minute sports show during the day.
Duggan had a drinking problem. Sometimes he would not show up for the afternoon show. One of his writers was Philbin. One day when Duggan did not show up, the manager put Philbin in front of the camera. He later said he was scared, but at the end of the show, he knew he wanted to be on TV.
He had wanted to be in the industry for years. He had been a page in New York City for Steve Allen’s The Tonight Show. But this was the first time he had been on-camera.
The story of what happened next is in this biography. He did not think he could break in full-time at KCOP. He quit. He had no replacement job, no fall-back position. Fortunately, his now ex-boss helped him find a job a newscaster at a low-powered AM radio station in San Diego.
In a way, his career then mimicked Allen’s. Allen had started out in Los Angeles as a late-night disc jockey. But, to liven up things, he invited people to come to the studio. More and more came. He began interacting with them, taking the microphone into the audience. Then local celebrites started asking to be on the show. Allen invented the talk show format. He went from radio to TV.
Philbin did the same, with lots of ups and downs.
There was this difference. Allen’s career slid after the Steve Allen Show, a variety show he quit The Tonight Show to host. He walked away from a gold mine for a silver mine. Then the ore played out. I have written about this before. Philbin’s career never slid for long.
He had a gift for improvisation, or so I have read. He was not a comedian. He was a writer. But he could interact well with a live audience.
As it turned out, Philbin became the longest-running survivor in the genre. The other talk show hosts came and went, but at 80 – he looks a decade younger – he was still at the top of his game on Friday. He almost died of a heart attack a few years ago, but still he would not quit.