N E W Y O R K, July 28, 2000 -- Goodbye, Kathie Lee.
After 15 years, today is Kathie Lee Gifford’s last day as Regis Philbin’s sidekick on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. Gifford is leaving the ABC morning talk show to pursue more acting and singing opportunities.
“It’s taken 15 years to say goodbye!” quipped co-host Regis Philbin during Thursday’s broadcast. But although he joked about the weeklong goodbye to Gifford, he took a few minute to bestow some gifts — ranging from a plastic fish to a dancing lobster — on his departing partner.
‘I Have to Do Different Things’
Gifford’s departure from Live takes one of television’s outsized personalities off the air. Her loopy histrionics and gushing tales of children Cody and Cassidy invited ridicule, but the sprightly entertainer was also a favorite with legions of fans.
“We love Kathie Lee and we’re going to miss her very much,” audience member Sharon Zelen of Commack, N.Y., told ABCNEWS Radio during Wednesday’s broadcast. “For 15 years she’s helped us get up in the morning and get the kids off to school.”
Gifford’s personal battles — the public humiliation of husband Frank Gifford’s tabloid-fueled affair and attacks on alleged labor abuses connected to her clothing line — won her some sympathetic support.
Gifford says she decided it was time to leave the morning show after subbing for David Letterman last winter. Her guest-host performance was well-received.
“I thought, ‘This is the moment where your life changed,’” she told The Associated Press in an interview. “I have to do different things now.”
Four days later, she told Philbin she would leave Live with Regis & Kathie Lee when her contract expired this summer.
Album on the WayGifford says she wants to do more acting and singing, but the demands of a one-hour live show each weekday had held her back. Earlier this year, she received good reviews for a fill-in role in the Broadway production Putting It Together. She’s currently at work on an album due to be released in October.
Her fans are certain Gifford’s new endeavors will be a success.
“She needs no help from anybody,” says New Jersey resident Deborah Kerr Grant, who also attended Wednesday’s broadcast. Regis, he’s another story.”
Live With Regis and ...?
No decision on a replacement has been made yet. With Gifford’s exit, the show will be renamed — at least temporarily — Live with Regis.
Producers are turning the selection of a replacement into sport, bringing in women for on-air tryouts with Philbin. The process, an ideal attention-getting device, could take several more months. USA Today this week pictured 22 potential candidates — including Cybill Shepherd, Joan Lunden, Joan Rivers, Cindy Crawford and Darva Conger — and asked readers to vote on their favorite.
“This list is hundreds long,” said Michael Gelman, the show’s executive producer. He said he looks at about 30 tapes a day.
Philbin’s wife, Joy, has filled in for Gifford frequently and will be in the chair on Monday. She has publicly taken herself out of the running for the permanent replacement gig, although it’s not clear whether that’s completely her choice. Her husband said on the air this week that he wanted to work with Joy, but “there’s a lot of reluctance to have a husband and wife.”
Regis himself is facing a tough couple of months. Not only must he cope with the parade of women looking to be his new on-air partner, but he is taping four prime-time episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire each week.
“He’s tired,” Gifford says. “He’s working a lot more than he used to. When Regis comes in in the morning, he wants to press the ‘play’ button and let it be automatic. It should be. That’s what the show has become. We were in such a rhythm and have been for so many years.”
The guests on Thursday’s show included movie critic Roger Ebert and his new TV show partner, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper. Ebert had several guest co-hosts following the death of his longtime partner, Gene Siskel.
And Ebert has sympathy for the soon-to-be-solo Regis: “Let me tell you, it’s not easy finding a new co-host.”
ABCNEWS Radio’s Bill Diehl and The Associated Press contributed to this report.