By now, if you care or pay attention to such things, you know Regis Philbin has announced his retirement from morning television.
In the interest of full disclosure, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t watch much television, including Regis, but I find elements of his life instructive and thought you might as well.
When most people think of Regis Philbin, they see success. He is one of television’s good guys, quick-witted and kindly humored. But Regis’ life has not been a one-act play whose star always shined strong and bright. In fact, he failed multiple times on the national stage before finding his niche on morning TV.
How he found it – and how he’s maintained a strong 28-year run of it – that’s the real story.
The first disappointment in Philbin’s professional life came in 1964 when he left a successful local show in San Diego and signed with a Hollywood agent. He quickly landed a nationally syndicated television show. He was told it had to be taped two weeks in advance. He disagreed, saying it would feel stale. But, he wanted a big show and agreed. Ratings quickly lagged, and he was fired. He was replaced by an unknown personality: Merv Griffin.
He went back to local San Diego TV. After two years he received a call from Joey Bishop who offered him the announcer’s job on his late night television show. Again he would meet with disappointment. Philbin was the sidekick and not given much opportunity to interact with guests, his real strength. Bishop’s ratings were anemic. Network executives blamed Philbin, even though the show ran opposite another whose star was rising – “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. Bishop’s show was cancelled in 1970.
Anticipating that the third time would be the charm, Philbin signed with NBC to host a daytime talk show in 1981. He said he needed an hour per day to make it work – but executives told him he could only have thirty minutes. He relented. The show was cancelled after 18 weeks.
In 1983, Regis and his wife, Joy, moved from California back to his native New York. He resolved to do things differently. At the time of his move he said, “Every time I’ve had a successful local show, and I’ve gotten the national break, somebody has said to me, `Let me show you how we do it nationally.’ And I said, `Fine, how do we do that?’ And they changed everything that made the local show a success.”
He signed with ABC and resisted network urgings to host a show that centered on the weird, wild and sensational. Instead, he and Kathy Lee Gifford, and later Kelly Ripa, stuck to friendly banter, talking about his obsession with Notre Dame, foibles with his wife, and friendly interviews with Hollywood celebrities. Nearly three decades later, Regis has decided to move on.
Regis Philbin’s career has been marked by passion, patience, persistence and old-fashioned perseverance. He never gave up. When he got knocked down, he got back up. And perhaps most instructively, he says that it was only when he stopped chasing the big dream of national television that he found true contentment.
At the same time, when the curtain falls on any career, whether it’s a high profile job in New York or a lower profile role in a small Midwestern town, it is good to be reminded of how the Lord views all honest work.
The oldest known Psalm in the Bible is Psalm 90, written by Moses. As we contemplate our calling and role in life, I would encourage you to meditate on his words, excerpted below:
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. (Verse 4)
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Verse 12)
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. (Verse 15)
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us, establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands. (Verse 17)