I can’t say I’ve ever been an actual fan of Regis Philbin’s or “Live with Regis and Kelly” (or, prior to that “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.” But he’s an institution, and it’s hard to deny he’s a master of the morning genre, a friendly face to hang out with while you stagger through your morning coffee. And it may just seem like affable chatter, but watching others try and fail to engage audiences proves it’s not as simple as it seems. While Hoda Kotb seems largely overwhelmed by Kathie Lee Gifford on “Today,” Regis was able to go toe-to-toe with the lunatic without seeming like a bully, which speaks to some magical television skills.
But even I have to admit Reege isn’t the man he used to be. In recent years, he’s come across like a doddering old uncle you don’t want to be stuck next to at Thanksgiving dinner. He forgets words, goes on tangents and generally seems distracted. The man is 80, for crying out loud. After 28 years, it’s time to hang it up.
We watch Ripa and Philbin walk out to the stage the last time, a short segment that is surprisingly moving. Ripa clutches a tissue in her hand, ready to stem the waterworks, and Philbin seems more concerned with making her feel better than soaking up the moment. Okay, not entirely. He’s still Regis and he soaks up plenty of applause by the time they get to the stage, but still, it’s a nice moment.
The stage show starts off with some goofy humor. We see the guests who’ve had imitations of Philbin. The worst imitation? Ben Affleck. Best? Neil Patrick Harris. And thus begins a show that could be “This Is Your Life,” just with better video and music.
New York City Mayor Bloomberg stops by to make suggestions on jobs Regis Philbin could move into now that he’s available (lots of Photoshopped pictures of him as the Naked Cowboy, making dogs at Grey’s Papaya, etc.), then gives him the key to the city. We get taped farewells from Emma Stone, Justin Timberlake and a host of other young stars (we grew up with you, Regis!).
His daughers Joanna and JJ fondly recount cute stories from their childhood. Philbin smiles throughout, but never gets too sucked in. “Too long, but okay,” Philbin says after a montage of great moments with Kelly (absolutely true), then cracks jokes throughout Kelly’s tearful speech about working with Regis. As hard as the producers are trying to get waterworks flowing (and it may be working on the studio audience, which is stuffed with stars like Diane Sawyer), Philbin isn’t giving in.
The only time when Regis seems to struggle with emotion is during a tweaked rendition of “Seasons of Love” from Rent, but still, he hangs tough. After the president of The Walt Disney Company comes out to tell him a plaque celebrating him will be placed on the building (a moment that really didn’t need to be televised), Regis gives a short speech, thanks everybody, and the show is over, just like that.
It’s not a great show, not even a particularly moving show (Philbin wasn’t going there, thank you very much). But it wasn’t a bad way to say goodbye, and Philbin’s instincts were right — he didn’t want to go out on a treacly, gooey note. He just wanted to say he had a good time and walk out with his head held high. There’s a reason why he’s an institution.
Did you watch the show? Are you a Philbin fan?