Regis Philbin can empathize with a talk-show host who hasn’t had it easy in his first weeks.
Piers Morgan has taken his share of criticism in getting his weeknight CNN program “Piers Morgan Tonight” up and running, and the co-host of “Live! With Regis & Kelly” — who will leave the syndicated weekday staple toward the end of the year — has thought for some time that Morgan had the right stuff for such a job.
“I met him five years ago,” Philbin tells Zap2it. “I hosted ‘America’s Got Talent’ for a year. I would fly out from New York every weekend, but it got to be too grueling for me, so I didn’t continue … but the one who really impressed me was Piers Morgan (who will stay on as a ‘Talent’ judge).
“He was bright, he was smart, and he was unafraid to make his statement about whether or not the contestant had talent. I admired that in him, and he had a good background as a newspaper editor; some of them were rather tabloid-ish, but he forged ahead. I’ve watched him a few times [on CNN], and he does a good job. I think that he’s proud of what he’s done so far, and that he’s very happy to get the [Larry] King job. That’s a prime piece of television real estate.”
Philbin will receive the Legend Award during the telecast of the ninth annual TV Land Awards on Sunday, April 17, on the nostalgia-driven network. Long the record-holder in the Guinness Book for logging the most on-air hours in television, he knows what it’s like to suffer critics’ barbs in the early going.
“Let me tell you, when I moved to New York from L.A. in ’83, I was taken as just another California fruitcake,” Philbin recalls. “A lot of the guys were pretty tough in their television columns. They really beat my brains out, and one of them even said, ‘I guarantee you, six months from now, he’ll go back to being a grapefruit out there in California.’
“I saved that, and I run into that guy occasionally. He’s very nice about it — ‘So I made a mistake!’ — but I know what it’s like to get bruised. They like to work over the new kid on the block. All of us have our own little foibles and, perhaps, flaws until we get organized and get into the tempo.
“Piers is following Larry King, who had his own style that everybody got used to,” Philbin reasons. “This is his style now, and we’ll have to get used to it — but by and large, I think he’s doing a good job.”