Regis’ rapport drives record run

NAB Hall of Fame

He’s logged more programming time than any other television personality in history — he’s closing in on 16,000 hours — and his career has spanned a vast evolutionary period of the tube medium.

“I have been through a couple of TV’s revolutions, from black-and-white to color to cable,” concedes Regis Philbin, who will be inducted into the National Assn. of Broadcasters Hall of Fame April 24.

Still hosting one of syndicated TV’s more prolific daytime programs — Buena Vista Television’s “Live With Regis and Kelly” — Philbin receives the lifetime honor at a time when the television industry is grappling with technologies like the digital video recorder and the Internet that will fundamentally alter its economic model.

To Philbin, however, the task of having an intimate relationship with a viewing audience remains constant across all technological innovation.

He thinks back to observing “The Tonight Show” host Jack Paar in 1961. “What changed my life was seeing him come out and tell the audience where he’d been and what he’d done that day. I thought I could do that”

Philbin adopted this one-on-one rapport with the aud himself, first achieving notoriety as a regular on the “Joey Bishop Show” in the late 1960s.

“If you can involve people, if you tell them enough about your life so that it duplicates what they’re doing in their lives, all of a sudden, yes, they do get interested,” said Philbin during a CBS television interview in December.

Going with that basic philosophy, Philbin began hosting local daytime talkers, first in San Diego before joining “A.M. Los Angeles in 1975. And in 1983, the former Navy man and Notre Dame alum began work on “The Morning Show” for WABC-TV in New York, where he was joined two years later by co-host Kathie Lee Gifford.

The pairing worked well for Philbin’s chatty, observational style, and the program grew so popular that national syndication became on option.

“I had done it so long, locally. And people would say to me, ‘Well, who cares what you did last night, or who you saw,’ ” Philbin recounted to CBS. ” ‘It’s just people don’t care in Kansas City. So it’ll never go national.’

“Well, finally I kind of forced it to go national. So it worked out just fine.”

Of course, the show grew into the “Live With Regis …” nationally syndicated powerhouse of today.

“What’s it been now, 45 years? And I’m still doing basically the same thing. It hasn’t changed at all,” Philbin notes.