Sunday’s return of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” will pay tribute to original host Regis Philbin, who died in July at the age of 88.
Philbin’s catchphrase (“Is that your final answer?”), his banter with contestants in the “Hot Seat” and even his monochromatic suits helped launch “Millionaire” to primetime dominance upon its 1999 premiere.
“I’m so glad that ‘Millionaire’ showed America and the world the outstanding broadcaster that Regis was. It made him a bigger star and more of a household name and brought him so much joy,” says Michael Davies, who produced the original series on ABC and is back for its nighttime revival with host Jimmy Kimmel. “Seeing that show succeed [for Regis] meant a lot to me.
“It was very important to Jimmy and I that we give Regis a proper tribute,” he says.
That segment will air near the conclusion of Sunday’s 9 p.m. season premiere (featuring celebrity contestant Tiffany Haddish).
“We sort of say goodbye to the contestants rolling over to the next show and then Jimmy speaks,” Davies says. “He wrote a beautiful tribute to Regis and then we go to an edited package of some of my most memorable moments of working with Regis on the show. That was very difficult to condense but I found some great moments that fans of the show will remember.
“Then we come back into the studio,” he says. “We play one of Regis’ favorite songs, performed by him, and we just leave the studio empty, with the lights up and a photo of Regis on the back wall.
“We give him an emotional sendoff on the stage and the studio he owned,” he says. “We’re all here because of Regis Philbin and we all know that.”
Both Davies and Kimmel shared strong bonds with Philbin, adding an extra layer of emotion to Sunday’s segment.
“Regis was a fan of Jimmy’s long before [Jimmy] was famous,” Davies says. “We booked Jimmy on the celebrity edition of ‘Millionaire’ when he wasn’t really a celebrity. Regis was tickled by him; I remember the night Jimmy first got on Letterman’ … Regis calling me and laughing out loud on the phone watching Jimmy.
“He was proud and felt he was somewhat responsible for bringing Jimmy on television,” he says. “There was a great affection between the two men; you could see it on every guest appearance Regis made on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live.’
“But it was something deeper than that,” he says. “These two men never forgot their roots and their original, oldest friends and family. Jimmy is still surrounded by people he grew up with, his family from Brooklyn and Las Vegas and his oldest friends in LA.
“It was very important to me to find [a host] who Regis would bless and believe worthy of taking his seat.”
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