Tom Bergeron, Al Roker and Katie Couric top my unlikely list of Regis Philbin replacements
He's survived open-heart surgery and Kathie Lee Gifford to set records in the Guinness book for his longevity in front of a TV camera.
So you wonder what in the wide world of showbiz could make Regis Philbin announce his retirement Tuesday after 28 years leading various iterations of the daytime television franchise now known as Live With Regis and Kelly.
"I don't want to alarm anybody...This will be my last year on the show," said the 79-year-old star, while talking with co-host Kelly Ripa, noting the end would likely come in summer or this fall. "There is a time that everything must come to an end for certain people on camera, especially certain old people."
(Many thanks to Times staffer Carrie Pratt for the wicked Photoshop aid.)
It was a bombshell dropped with typical self-deprecation from a guy who has hosted TV talk and game shows since 1964, surviving the switch of controversial longtime co-host Gifford for the perky beauty Ripa with barely more than a ripple.
But aside from some basic head-scratchers -- like, why now and does he have some other project up his sleeve -- the big question is the most obvious one: Who can take Philbin's place as the backbone of one of daytime TV's longest-running franchises?
Some of the best candidates already have jobs, including frequent co-host Anderson Cooper (launching his own chat show this fall), Ryan Seacrest (stuck in Los Angeles for months hosting American Idol) and Piers Morgan, whose stint on Live With helped convince CNN he should replace Larry King.
So, with those guys on the sidelines, here's one critic's (admittedly unorthodox) short list:
Tom Bergeron: Only a host of the highest caliber can navigate the super-cheesy surroundings of America's Funniest Home Videos and Dancing with the Stars to deliver something approaching tolerable entertainment. But joking aside, Bergeron is a sharp wit and engaging personality who remains one of the small screen's most underrated talents.
Al Roker: Stop laughing. Right now. Because if there is somebody who gets even less credit for how skilled he is at live television and impromptu interviews, it's Matt Lauer's wingman on TV's long-dominant network morning show. And since Lauer would hardly take the pay or power cut to join a syndicated outfit, maybe it's time for Roker to move centerstage at long last.
Katie Couric: Thanks to her morning show history and a looming contract end, the CBS news anchor's name floats by every time an opening for a bubbly TV conversationalist emerges. And it's hard to imagine Live With's hardcore audience of aging housewives tolerating two perky, impossibly overpaid beauties greeting them every morning. But sometimes surprises work best on TV, and there are worse gambles than teaming up two of the most successful female morning show hosts on television. Like, say....
Ricky Gervais: Yeah, it would be a train wreck. But an impossibly funny, totally mesmerizing one, especially on the days Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Cher or the cast of Sex and the City are booked for a chat. Would make Rosie O'Donnell vs Elisabeth Hasselbeck look like a Piers Morgan interview with Oprah Winfrey.