People Staff
December 31, 1999 12:00 PM

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire host Regis Philbin is: a) “revitalized”; b) “the guy next door—but funnier”; c) “unique”; d) “a firestarter.” If your lifelines were (in order) his wife, Joy, producer-pal Michael Gelman, $1 million winner John Carpenter and Millionaire executive producer Michael Davies, then your final, and correct, answer would be: all of the above. The ratings blaze ignited by Philbin, 68, and 1999’s hottest show—watched in its August and November runs by an astounding 24 million trivia nuts—has turned 38-year TV vet Philbin, a onetime network page, into the prince of prime time. And he’s keeping his day job: He remains tied to Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee for 20 more months and to Millionaire for five years. Of the two, he is more awed by the heat of the night: “If I was a little bit younger I’d be really bowled over,” says Philbin, who signed on to Millionaire after viewing a tape of the British version early this year. “The thrill of having a prime-time hit is a very heady experience.” In November, Millionaire boosted ABC to its first sweeps win in five years; now, at least eight quiz-crazy clones (like FOX’s Greed) want to cash in. They will be out-Reeged, says IRS agent Carpenter, 32, the only hot-seater to haul in the top prize on either the U.S. or British versions. “I can’t imagine the show without him,” says Carpenter. “He brings his own unique style and just the right amount of drama and humor. He doesn’t try to intimidate you.” Joy, who lives with Philbin in a Manhattan apartment near his shows’ studios, says Millionaire’s success has turned her husband into a new man. “He’s more energized. It’s amazing.” Even Live! producer Gel-man is basking in Millionaire’s morning afterglow. “It has jump-started Regis creatively. And what’s good for Regis is good for Live!” Millionaire resumes as a thrice-weekly series Jan. 11, and Philbin has no millennial resolutions to slow down: “Right now I’m itching to go,” he says. “I know fame is fleeting. Someday this will all just be something in a TV trivia book.” Or a final answer for a megabucks TV jackpot.

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