When Regis Philbin signs off on his final broadcast Nov. 18, it will be the end of not only his nearly three-decade run as host of “Live!” but also his reign as one of Notre Dame’s most celebrated TV treasures.
For me, it’s also the end of something I like to call the “Can you get me on Regis?” era.
Not to be confused with the equally tricky “Can you get me on Oprah?” era – which also mercifully came to an end this year – the “Get me on Reeg” days have been a mixed bag of hits, misses, ridiculous requests and heartfelt pleas. I honestly cannot even count the number of times I’ve been asked to pitch a story, faculty member, program or event to the poor “Live!” producers, who have always taken my calls, even when I would not have blamed them for sending it to voicemail when they saw on the Caller ID that it was me. Again.
I first met Regis (a 1953 Notre Dame graduate) back in 1999 when I interviewed him as a TV reporter in South Bend. Our paths crossed again in 2001 as Notre Dame was breaking ground on its new performing arts center. (You know, the one with the Philbin Studio Theatre inside.) Regis wanted to not only come to town for the celebration, but also to do his show from here. Live. Keep in mind this was a million years ago, technology-wise. I spent days straight working with his production crew to build a set on the Main Quad out of nothing at all, complete with phone lines, electricity and a satellite hook-up. We also arranged to have students up and out of bed for the early morning broadcast (8 a.m.! College students!) and pre-recorded some segments with Reeg being Reeg, out feeding his duck by the lake, mingling with the masses on campus, just doing his thing. Technical problems abounded, but at the end of the day, a good time was had by all.
Over the course of the next several years, I hit the producers up for everything from Regis holding up t-shirts or photos to taking live phone calls or interviewing guests in the studio. The answer wasn’t always yes, but I can say the show has been very good to Notre Dame, and to me as a PR person.
Last year I had the pleasure of taking David Zimmer, a wonderful student who was the Notre Dame leprechaun at the time, to New York to appear on “Live!” in conjunction with the football game at Yankee Stadium. David was the one who sealed the deal, actually. When I was trying to sell the producer on the idea of having the cheerleaders, band and/or leprechaun on the show, she came back with one simple question – “Can the leprechaun do a backflip?” I called David, fingers crossed, and his answer was, “Of course I can do a backflip. What kind of leprechaun can’t do a backflip??” (Okay, that’s not what he said. He’s actually really sweet and said, “Sure can!”) And the rest, as they say, is Regis history.
We got to hang out in the green room and meet a movie star, and then we joined Regis and Kelly for a photo. This was my third or so time meeting Regis and although I’m sure he can’t possibly have actually remembered me, he greeted me warmly with, “Julie! Of course! How’ve you been?!” and chatted for a few minutes about Notre Dame. He has a way of making everyone feel like an old friend. It’s an amazing gift.
So that’s my Regis story. He’s a great guy and I’ll miss having our paths cross, no matter how infrequently.
On the bright side, answering the “Can you get me on Regis?” question is about to get a whole lot easier.