Regis a master of morning banter

Decades of practice honed Philbin's hosting

While talkshows have continued to evolve over the past 50 years, the continued success of “Live With Regis and Kelly” can be attributed to the show sticking to its tried-and-true format.

The show begins with a candid chat between hosts Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, followed by celebrity guests that range from George Clooney and Julianne Moore to Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Sameer Mishra.

“My goal is to entertain people, make our guests look good and to have a lot of fun,” says Philbin, who, at 76, is receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at tonight’s Daytime Emmys and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. “Programs like ‘The Merv Griffin Show’ and ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ are a forgotten thing in our business. Even the girls on ‘The View’ are highly politicized.”

Philbin recalls in the late 1980s that talkshow formats started to change.

“They’d try to patch up marriages and get involved in people’s problems,” he says. “They splintered off from regular talkshows.”

The host opted against going down that road and stuck to the format employed by Griffin, Douglas and his greatest influence, the late Jack Paar. As an NBC page in the late 1950s, Philbin recalls watching Paar chat with audiences on his “Tonight Show” at the Hudson Theater in New York.

“I thought that I could tell a story the way he would,” Philbin says.

Ripa, who’s co-hosted on “Live” for more than seven years, grew up watching Dinah Shore’s “Dinah!” program with her mother.

“I remembered that she and (Griffin and Douglas) seemed to be friends with the people that they interviewed,” Ripa says. “Regis has that (quality), too.”

Philbin says that no one has attempted to tinker with his intimate and somewhat irreverent approach, which has kept “Live” at the top. “It’s worked over the years,” he says.

“People aren’t tuning in to our show to be shocked or hear anything salacious,” says Ripa. “If there’s any edginess, we turn it on ourselves. We’ll make ourselves the butt of the joke. That’s the way the show’s always been, pre-dating me.”

Philbin enjoys having guests on who understand and appreciate his informal tone, such as Clooney, Tom Hanks and David Letterman, whom Philbin calls his favorite guest. “You only get him once or twice in a lifetime,” Philbin says.

Replies Letterman about his good friend: “Regis is one of the greats and a tremendous broadcaster. Day in and day out, he has the single most entertaining show on television. There’s nobody better than Regis.”

Earlier this month, the hosts challenged Mishra to an on-air spelling bee, and the irreverence comes from watching the duo go down in flames to a teenager.

“You always root for the underdog, and we are the underdogs,” says Ripa. “I think that’s what makes us relatable to the audience.”

Philbin and Ripa agree that a vital component to the program’s success is the live element. “That means everything to me,” Philbin says.

Ripa concurs: “It’s the oxygen of our show. It’s why I loved it as a viewer, and it’s why I love working here.”

As popular as Philbin and Ripa’s morning chat is, it’s not likely to go beyond the show’s first half hour. “It’s our pride and joy,” Philbin says, “but if we extended it, we’d be running it into the ground.” Ripa adds: “Regis is right. (The morning chat) is this chocolate truffle. You want the rest? Tune in tomorrow.”

Could Philbin and “Live” work as a latenight host and show? “Regis could play in any time in any forum,” Ripa says. “I just love him. I do think part of our show’s success is the ‘breakfast banter.’ Could it play at night? Probably. It would open us up to being a little more edgy.”

Philbin certainly has been on primetime before. He nearly single-handedly helped ABC triumph in the ratings race from 1999-2002 when he hosted “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and now he’s back in that same studio hosting “Million Dollar Password” for CBS.

Daytime or nighttime? Matters little to Philbin, a TV icon who keeps chugging along.

Regis Philbin
What: Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys
Where: Kodak Theater, Hollywood
When: Friday night; 8 p.m. broadcast on ABC

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