A talk-show host knows he’s been around a while when most of the people he has interviewed are dead.
Or so it seemed Thursday on “Live with Regis and Kelly,” as a lengthy montage was shown of past guests who have passed on. Josh Groban, who was previously announced as one of the megastars scheduled to appear this week to salute Regis Philbin as he prepares to say good-bye on Friday, accompanied the montage with the singing of “Smile” (you know this song; some of the lyrics are: “Smile, though your heart is breaking . . . [etc.]).
This was possibly the longest litany of famous dead people ever shown on TV – far surpassing in length and breadth those annual Honor Rolls of the Dead that they show on awards telecasts such as the Oscars or Emmys.
If we listed all the dearly departed golden greats interviewed by Regis, you’d still be reading this late into the afternoon. Suffice it to say, it ranged widely – from singers (Luther Vandross, Ray Charles and others) to Hollywood legends (Merv Griffin, Bob Hope, Ed McMahon and countless others).
One notable thing we observed: So many of the dead celebs died too young. To us, they comprised the biggest category in the whole thing, including (to name just a few): Chris Farley, Brittany Murphy, Bernie Mac, John Ritter, Phil Hartman, Heath Ledger and, seemingly, scores of others who passed through “Live” and then passed on.
If you’re getting the impression that this “farewell” feature was sad, then you are correct. There’s nothing wrong with remembering the dead, of course, but from a television standpoint, we felt this segment was just one huge downer.
Luckily, it came at the end of a show that was a lot more buoyant, highlighted by the show’s single special guest, the unsinkable Kathie Lee Gifford, who came on to describe for Regis what his life is going to be like starting Monday, when he’s no longer on live television every morning.
“I think it’s going to take some getting used to,” Gifford said, who added that the sense of “freedom” she felt when she left “Live” in 2000 made her realize she made the right decision when she called it quits.
Though Kathie Lee didn’t stay on the show for long (she had to get to NBC for her own show), she appeared in a number of clips in another montage – this one celebrating Regis’ work on morning television since moving back to his hometown of New York City in 1983 to co-host a then-new morning show with Cyndy Garvey on the local ABC station. Clips of Regis and Garvey were shown (probably the first time they’ve been aired anywhere in nearly 30 years) and so was a clip (or maybe it was a still photo) of Regis with his second co-host, Ann Abernathy.
We’ve been watching Regis’ farewell shows all week long and we’ve seen so many clip retrospectives of past guests and funny, memorable moments that we’re not sure what on earth the show has left over for Regis’ final show on Friday morning.
Meanwhile, he’s the subject of a one-hour special airing Thursday night at 8/7c on ABC – “Regis Philbin: The Morning Maestro” – anchored by Katie Couric (it’s her first such special for ABC). And later on, Regis will be on “Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS.