Regis & Kelly Tribute: ‘Live’s’ Perfect Third Banana

Jan 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Michael Gelman isn’t just an executive producer. He also plays one on TV.

In fact, there are days when one could argue that the title of the show he has executive produced since 1987-making his the longest such tenure among syndication’s top shows-could be “Live With Regis and Kelly and Gelman.”

Always on stage during the broadcast of “Live With Regis and Kelly,” he becomes a key element in the fizzy chemistry as straight man, funny man, fact-checker, mediator, lightning rod and eye-on-the-clock adult for co-hosts Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa.

Scene from a recent “Live”:

“Travel Trivia”contestant on the phone says she is a “phlebotomist.”

Mr. Philbin turns to Ms. Ripa and asks whether she knows what that is.

Ms. Ripa, without missing a beat, says: “Someone who takes blood.”

Mr. Philbin seems genuinely (and perhaps a tad grudgingly) impressed.

Mr. Gelman flashes a quickly scrawled cue card that reads “Not as dumb as she looks” and nimble director Brian Chapman captures the image.

It’s a delicious moment for viewers, who know Mr. Gelman is making a joke that is really at Mr. Philbin’s expense, and it’s a shining moment for the executive producer.

If Ms. Ripa is Mr. Philbin’s second banana, Mr. Gelman is third banana. He’s a character.

He has been a character on “Live” since he returned in 1987 to the show on which he started as a freelance production assistant, rose to associate producer and then left to seek his fortune. He found that fortune after he returned as executive producer in 1987, the year before “Live” entered national syndication.

“Regis has a way of making characters,” Mr. Gelman said.

Art Moore, who doubles as programming VP for WABC-TV and executive in charge of production for “Live,” joked that his own appearances since 1989 on the show have “catapulted me into oblivion,” when in fact those appearances have made him a familiar face around the world. (He was once recognized by tourists in a mountaintop cemetery in Italy.)

Mr. Moore is more low-key than Mr. Gelman-until “Live’s” annual Halloween costume-apalooza, when he may show up as a cape-twirling Wonder Woman to Mr. Gelman’s python-draped Britney Spears.

“We’ve come to own Halloween,” Mr. Gelman said. “To me there is nothing funnier than seeing Regis as Kelly and Kelly as Regis. He makes for a very unattractive woman and he can keep in character for only about five minutes.”

Mr. Gelman’s on-air character has morphed from ultimate bachelor to long-overdue bridegroom of entertainment reporter Laurie Hibberd to, ultimately, proud papa to their two young daughters.

As faithful viewers know, Mr. Philbin has long feigned annoyance when the subject of children is raised.

“He’s annoyed about everything,” Mr. Gelman said with a comfort born of success (he has a development deal with Buena Vista Television) as well as his long relationship with Mr. Philbin (who also is an executive producer of “Live”) and with the small (by talk show standards) crew of long-tenured producers.

“Regis calls it the elite guerrilla team,” Mr. Gelman said. On other shows there are “layer after layer” of personnel he believes amounts to “baggage that slows down and also muddles the creative process.”

“Here there’s a strong point of view and very little interference,” he said.

And if something unexpected happens, whether it’s as unpleasant a surprise as Lindsay Lohan phoning in her apologies for not being able to make it to the show that’s already on the air, or as pleasant as a guest proving so entertaining that the segment runs long, “We can change on a dime,” Mr. Gelman said.

But most important, Mr. Gelman and his little-crew-that-could are able to keep the show fresh and adventurous, yet pleasantly conservative, which has made it an enduring hit.

“We realize who our audience is, and we are true to who we are,” Mr. Gelman said.