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KTTV's Wacky Jillian Barbarie Gets Her Shot at the Big Time

Television * The local weathercaster is taking her shtick to New York for an ABC tryout with Regis Philbin.

June 14, 2000|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The applause sign lights up, and the studio audience goes crazy as the hosts of the hit talk show "Live With Regis & . . . Jillian B." come on stage and settle into their high stools.

"Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome," says Regis Philbin before turning to his co-host. "Jillian, how you doing? Feel good?"

"Waaaassssuuup, Reege!" says Jillian Barbarie, tugging her skin-clinging purple sweater over the top of her leopard-skin tights. "I went running around with some friends last night who LOOOOOVE you, and they told me I'm doing pretty good in this hot seat. That's great, 'cause I was checkin' myself out in the mirror this morning, and lemme tell ya, I've got grill marks!!!"

Philbin spits out the sip of coffee he was drinking and bursts out laughing. "Gelman, Gelman," he pleads to the off-camera executive producer Michael Gelman. "She's too much!"

That's how the fantasy plays out. The reality version will unfold Thursday as KTTV-TV's "Good Day L.A." weathercaster Jillian Barbarie sits down beside Regis. This week she's just replacing the vacationing Kathie Lee Gifford on the syndicated "Live With Regis & Kathie Lee," but she's also one of several local and nationally known "candidates" getting a tryout for the soon-to-be vacant seat next to Philbin as the producers continue their wide-reaching search to replace Gifford, who is leaving the show at the end of July to pursue other interests.

Other fill-ins this week have included Philbin's wife Joy Philbin, New York-based broadcasters Kathleen Murphy and Mercedes Woods, and comic Caroline Rhea.

Barbarie's off-the-cuff and sometimes crass comments--like those delivered by her Goat Girl character, which also require stretching her face and sprinkling her sentences with "baaaa"--as well as her curvy figure, form-fitting outfits and overpowering vivaciousness have become a staple of the Channel 11 morning news.

And of all the women sitting in the hot seat, it's Barbarie--relatively unknown outside Los Angeles--who is drawing the most heat. A New York tabloid has already tagged her "the shapely Barbarie." "Entertainment Tonight" did a segment on her, and she said that "ET" will be following her around New York this week. And Christina Ferrare, one of numerous personalities who has co-hosted with Philbin, called in to "Good Day L.A." to give her Philbin do's and don'ts. Gifford has even mentioned her on the air.

Even Gelman has been caught off guard by the flurry of attention surrounding Barbarie: "I'm so shocked at the amount of press interest we've gotten concerning her."

Most of all, Barbarie--whose outrageousness and frequent declarations that "yes, my breasts are real"--has drawn as many fans as detractors and critics who blast her demeanor and look. She's used "Good Day L.A." during the past several weeks to relentlessly plug her upcoming appearance. She has asked viewers to fax suggestions on what she should wear, injected comments about Philbin at every opportunity during her exchanges with anchor Steve Edwards and entertainment reporter Dorothy Lucey, and has promised her fans that yes, she will do her Goat Girl routine.

"Regis will love Goat Girl," Barbarie said. "I don't know about the rest of America."

KTTV is also exploiting the appearance. KTTV News Director Jose Rios has given Barbarie his blessing to co-host, and a news crew has accompanied Barbarie to New York to document not only the days before her stint, but also to chronicle what is actually Barbarie's first visit ever to the Big Apple.

'A Small-Town Girl From Burlington, Canada'

But despite what seems to be an all-out campaign to step in for Gifford, Barbarie insists she is looking at her Thursday shot as a "one-time-only" deal.

"I'm just looking to have fun, I'm not worried about whether I get the job," said Barbarie last week during a relatively calm moment. "I'm just a small-town girl from Burlington, Canada. It's the dream of a lifetime to have fun with the biggest host in America. Who knows what's going to happen? I'm not worrying about anything beyond that. I'm a nobody, I don't have any baggage. Just to have this shot makes me the luckiest person on Earth."

She said she was contacted by her agent about the "Live" job, and had not sent in a tape or inquired about the job. She spoke to Philbin on the air several months ago when he called in to the morning news after she mentioned that she was a fan of his, and they had a joking and affectionate exchange.

Said Gelman: "Now that Kathie Lee is leaving, we're trying out lots and lots of people, but every single person who comes on is not a candidate. We're doing a lot of experimenting, and hopefully after a time of doing this, we'll see what works. We want it to be an organic process."

He added, "We're thinking of this process as 'dating.' People think of Regis and Kathie Lee as a married couple. It was a faux marriage. Now one wife is leaving, and he's starting the dating process before remarrying."

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