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Regis Is Proud of 'Live' but Lookin' at Late-Night Too : Television: The popular co-host of the 3rd-ranked talk show says he's happy with his job. But, he admits, the thought of following 'Letterman' is appealing.

March 14, 1994|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Regis Philbin bounds out of a white armchair to retrieve the Nielsen ratings. "Now, look at that," says the 60-year-old host, gesturing toward the ratings for "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee," the Fred-and-Ginger of TV talk shows.

Philbin's seemingly effortless talkfest with Kathie Lee Gifford ("I suggested to her early on that we not rehearse our conversation--just kibbutz about our daily lives," he says) is the third-highest ranked syndicated talk show in overall ratings, with only Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue ranked ahead of it.

But perhaps because it's a modest little show (with immodest profits in which Philbin and Gifford share) favored by the kind of Midwestern tourists who are downstairs having their photo taken by the TV monitor at the WABC-TV studios, or perhaps because, in 30 years as a TV personality, Philbin has specialized in making the job look easy, "Reege" has not been written about like Phil and Oprah and certainly not like Philbin's friend David Letterman or even Conan O'Brien.

"If Conan O'Brien belches in a Hungarian restaurant, it gets written up in the newspaper," Philbin complains jokingly.

Lately, it's Philbin's name that has been in the newspapers, with speculation that he is being considered to host a show at 12:35 a.m. on CBS, following "Late Show With David Letterman."

As part of Letterman's contract with CBS, he and his producers "own" that time slot and are developing a talk show for it. Letterman has had Philbin on his show as a guest several times and, according to sources, Philbin and CNBC's Tom Snyder are on a short list of people being considered. (Bob Costas has already turned down the job to re-sign with NBC.)

Philbin, however, is under contract to do "Live" until August, 1995. "I think they'd have to make their move" before he's available to talk, Philbin said.

He emphasized that he's happy doing the syndicated morning show (seen in Southern California weekdays at 9 a.m. on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42). But he admitted that the notion of following Letterman was tempting.

"If (the post-Letterman show) were tomorrow, I'd have to rethink my whole situation," Philbin said. "You know, I love this job, and we've got a great success going. But, at the same time, the freshness of doing something new is appealing. How many make-overs and how many weddings can you do?"

Gifford, who has been Philbin's co-host on "Live" since 1985, is also interested in branching out. A New York tabloid, quoting a remark she reportedly made during an appearance at a shopping mall in South Carolina, recently published a story indicating that Gifford might leave the show. She said she had been misquoted and issued a statement saying she wants to stay with the series "while continuing to find ways to grow as an artist outside the show."

"It's certainly our wish that she stay. We're in renegotiations, and there's nothing on her side that has made us think she won't stay," said Art Moore, the executive in charge of production on "Live." "We've never been restrictive" on her outside activities, such as her being the TV spokeswoman for a cruise line.

"Obviously, we hope Regis is going to want to stay too" when his contract comes up for renewal, Moore said. "This is a very successful show, and they've both worked too hard to jump off the bandwagon now."

Philbin did not want to comment on Gifford's plans, but he said, "I think she would like to do some outside work, perhaps in a Broadway show."

One outside activity that Philbin is very serious about is his own exercise and fitness video. What prompted him to make it was his own health: A year ago he was treated for a blocked artery to his heart. After being treated successfully with angioplasty, Philbin embarked on a program of walking and other aerobic exercise along with lifting weights.

"I was a skinny kid growing up in the Bronx, and I've been lifting weights for years," said Philbin, who had worked out on his TV show with guests such as Jack LaLanne and Hulk Hogan. "But I wasn't exercising right for my heart."

In his 55-minute video, the talk-show host is seen getting a lesson in aerobic walking from a fitness expert and lifting weights with a trainer. There are also appearances by Gifford, who works out on a treadmill, and by Philbin's wife, Joy, who works out on a StairMaster.

"There haven't been many videos by guys and, after so many viewers wrote in about my blocked artery, I thought it might be a good idea to do a tape for people like me to follow," he said. "We have fun on the tape, but I didn't want to put a lot of shtick on it. This is a serious subject."

Philbin, who works out three times a week, has good pecs for a 60-year-old. But the energetic host is at a loss to explain his continuing appeal. "I don't know what it is, exactly," he said. "I try to be a guy on TV who doesn't wear out his welcome."

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