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Regis PHilbin’s Announcement Jan. 18 that he will step down as co-host of ABC’s Live! With Regis and Kelly at the end of summer shocked his colleagues and left insiders wondering who will fill the swivel seat Philbin has occupied for 28 years. While it was no secret that Philbin, 79, has been slowing down (he had triple-bypass surgery in 2007), the news came “like a bolt out of the blue,” an ABC insider says. Philbin didn’t tell the network or co-host Kelly Ripa about his decision until minutes before the show, sources confirm.
Industry analysts say Philbin, whose deal with ABC/Disney pays him a reported $21 million a year, will be hard to replace. “It’s a very personality-driven show,” says Brad Adgate, senior vp research at Horizon Media. “He’s the linchpin.” Adgate believes that finding a replacement will be more difficult than when longtime co-host Kathie Lee Gifford left the show in 2000. “You don’t say, ‘I’m watching Live! With Regis and Kelly,’ you say, ‘I’m watching Regis,’ ” he says. “There are probably a lot of people who are not going to watch that show when he’s gone.”
Like many chatfests, Live! has shed viewers in recent years. It averaged 3.3 million viewers during the most recent quarter, compared with 4.2 million during the same period in 2006. Live! also has lost ground in the 9 a.m. hour to NBC’s Today, which beat the show for the first time during the 2009-10 season. So far this season, the third hour of Today is drawing 250,000 more viewers than Live!
The head-scratching has begun over who could replace Philbin. Before he snagged his own syndicated daytime talk show with Warner Bros. (set to launch in the fall), regular Live! fill-in host Anderson Cooper would have been a possible heir apparent. Survivor host/executive producer Jeff Probst, another frequent guest host, is under contract with the CBS reality show, but only until the end of the upcoming 22nd cycle, which concludes in May. Other names mentioned internally include Good Morning America weatherman Sam Champion, who is known to have aspirations beyond meteorology, and Ripa’s husband Mark Conseulos, her erstwhile co-star on the daytime soap All My Children. Pundits have suggested everyone from Wayne Brady and Tom Bergeron to Amy Sedaris.
“It’s a huge change,” one industry executive says. “The guy has been a landmark there for a long time. Any time you have that kind of change, there is both risk and opportunity — for everyone in morning television.”
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