Regis Philbin’s characteristically animated appearance on “The Daily Show” last week ended with him planting a kiss atop John Oliver’s head. “I realized he just sapped my youth – that’s how he still looks so incredible. He sucks years from the heads of men through his lips,” Oliver later quipped.
The endlessly energetic octogenarian doesn’t have to resort to zombie-like tactics to stay young. Regis just needs TV. We’ll soon see, though, whether TV still needs Regis.
Nearly two years after he departed “Live! With Regis and Kelly,” Philbin makes his fulltime return to the tube Monday as co-host of a show on the new Fox Sports 1 channel. It marks the latest act for a remarkably durable entertainer who just might be the most telegenic figure in TV history.
Philbin’s comeback arrives six days before his 82nd birthday. His latest gig, interestingly enough, also follows last week’s fun descent into televised faux-misery by his former co-host/sparring partner Kathie Lee Gifford, who filled the “Today” show with waves of gripes (and fermented grapes) over turning a mere 60.
Philbin, John Oliver’s theory notwithstanding, isn’t a wonder of age as much as a marvel of chemistry – something he’s enjoyed with legions of co-hosts, guests and most of all, viewers.
It’s a chemistry that, so far, has proven timeless in a half-century-plus career that put Philbin in the Guinness Book of World Records for most hours spent on TV. He was only up to 15,000
hours when he notched the honor in 2004, and is no doubt eager to resume the count while talking sports on Fox’s “Crowd Goes Wild.”
It’s folly to overanalyze Philbin’s modest magic. But his common touch, affability and lack of the nastiness that permeates much of the entertainment media realm these days have served him – and viewers – well. Regis makes for a great TV pal. Even on a simply formatted show like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” he knew how to create drama – and soften the blow when contestants lost and share in the celebration when they won.
Philbin, as we’ve noted, also has the rare gift of letting you laugh with him and at him at the same time. At this point, even with nothing to prove, he appears determined to get – and give – the last laugh. Check out Philbin’s kiss of life to Oliver as he prepares to revive a TV career for the ages:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.
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