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Television show host Regis Philbin recently passed away on July 24, 2020. The executive producer for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” has since revealed how the late star had always been the first choice for the game show.

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” executive producer, Michael Davies only has fond memories of Philbin as the “last great broadcaster.” The television personality recently died from a heart attack from coronary artery disease at age 88.

Davies stated how most people knew Philbin wanted to host the game show, but he had a little secret about what the show wanted. The executive producer revealed how the late star “was always the first choice” for the show.

Regis Philbin at a press conference on his departure from “Live with Regis and Kelly” at ABC Studios on November 17, 2011, in New York City | Photo: Bennett Raglin/WireImage/Getty Images


He saw the potential of the game show when he saw a tape of the UK version. ABC didn’t see the show the same way but during a phone call between Davies and Philbin, the late star showed that he was in sync with the executive producer.

Davies explained: “Regis knew it was the modern making of one of those great game shows of the 1950s.” He added: “If he was my first choice before that conversation, he was my only choice by the end of it.”


Philbin had so much faith in the show that he believed they could save the network with it and that’s what he did. He was 68 years old when he began hosting it.

The game show was the “most modern game show that had ever been on TV.” Being an older man, Philbin was able to make contestants comfortable.


Davies noted how he might have been able to get “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” on-air with someone else and it could have had 10 episodes but he believed it wouldn’t have gone as far as it did. With Philbin at the helm, the game show managed to get “400 primetime episodes in three seasons.”

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20 years ago today, the first episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire aired on ABC. I was 33 and I had tracked, captured and developed the show while an executive at ABC, and then literally staked my entire career on it working. I quit my job in LA to move to New York to produce it. And when it did work, sensationally, Millionaire literally changed the course of my life. It taught me how to be a producer. It created my company and all the wonderful people who have ever worked there. Moreover, JJ, Ingrid and George would literally not exist. I would not have more than half my friends. I would not have the homes I love and share with the people I love. I might not even have Rog. Or a blazer. Or the crap part of Soho. On the third night of the show, this man, Doug Van Gundy, a fiddler from West Virginia, won more than 20 times his annual salary in the hot seat. I was literally tearing up in the control room. But partly because I hadn’t slept for a week. In close to 400 episodes of prime time Millionaire, ordinary Americans like Doug employed their knowledge and nerve to win countless millions. We raised tens of millions more for charity. And beyond this we brought Americans from all over the country together in New York, and in front of their TV screens, to celebrate knowledge and hope and the excitement of not knowing exactly what was going to happen next on a show that was genuinely real. Producing Millionaire always moved me. The show made history and ABC an estimated billion dollars. The entire team of people who created this format in the UK were geniuses. The show worked in pretty much every country it ever aired and it aired in pretty much all of them. That tiny team who worked with me to launch this in 1999 are legends. You know who you are and what we did. And those who supported me at Disney/ABC, especially when no one thought this would work, I will never forget what you did. And Regis Philbin. Words can not express my gratitude and appreciation for you. This show was made for you. You chased me down to host it. And I never regretted my choice for a second. Your performance was Emmy award winning and epic.

A post shared by Michael Davies (@embassy_davies) on


The executive producer noted: “No one but Regis could have done that.” The “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” and “Live” executive producer, Michael Gelman, also remembered the late host fondly.


He paid tribute to Philbin saying: “Regis used to say that he and I had a great father/son relationship, but that I was the father.” Gelman confessed that he actually agreed with the statement.


He recalled how he’s spent most of his time trying to keep Philbin out of trouble. “Live” will honor the late host’s television legacy with an updated presentation of the “Regis Farewell Celebration Special.”

The Emmy Award-winning special will air on Friday, July 31, 2020.

Billy Xiong

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