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Jewish World Review Feb. 8, 2000 /2 Adar I, 5760

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Consumer Reports



Who Wants to be Regis Philbin? -- WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING characters has proven to be Michael Eisner’s answer to Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse? Is it ...

A. Roger Rabbit
B. The Lion King
C. Dick Tracy
D. Regis Philbin

Okay, time’s up. Is that your final answer? Are you sure? And the correct answer is .... REGIS PHILBIN!

I wonder if in his wildest dreams Michael Eisner ever thought that he’d find the next Mickey Mouse in a sixty-five year old television talk-show veteran who used to play second banana to Joey Bishop? But that is exactly what happened. With “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Regis Philbin has become the hottest non-cartoon Disney character since Davy Crockett.

Always a popular morning show personality, all of a sudden Reege has been catapulted to superstar sex symbol status, right up there with Ricky Martin, Leonardo DiCaprio and Bill Clinton.

He has appeared on the cover of every major national magazine, short of “National Geographic,” in that now famous pose with the outstretched arm holding out a fistful of money. He’s been making the rounds of television and radio talk shows. I’m sure somewhere in the Hollywood hills, a screenwriter is hammering out a feature film for him.

His price has gone up, as they say in the trades. After some forty odd years in show business, Reege is IN DEMAND! HA! Take THAT, Kathy Lee!

Regis Philbin, the man who was able to do what super agent and former Disney President Michael Ovitz could NOT do -- make a lot of money for the Disney company. Regis Philbin, the man who not only saved the ABC television network, but arguably helped reverse the slow, torturous two-year slide of Walt Disney stock. REE-GIS! REE-GIS! Michael Eisner’s golden boy.

I know that “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is enormously popular -- I know there are Internet and computer software versions of the game out there that are doing well, but all that is beside the point. Trust me, the REAL bucks is in Regis Philbin himself, not the game show. If Disney Consumer Products is serious about getting out of the red, what they need to do is focus on merchandising the living heck out of ol’ Reege. And I’m not just talking about the obligatory T-shirts, coffee mugs and baseball caps with smart aleck sayings, either. I’m talking major merchandise blitz.

The “Tickle Me Regis” doll could be the hit of next year’s New York Toy Fair. A full line of Regis sheets and pillow cases would brighten up any child’s room, and what teen-ager wouldn’t want to don “Reege Wear” apparel (available in any color as long as its black). “PokeReege” cards could become the latest collectable fad. And let’s not forget “Philbin Family Fun,” the weekly comic magazine for the entire family.

This is just the tip of the iceberg -- spin-offs and character extensions like a “Baby Reegie” preschool line of infant ware can milk this thing for years to come.

And then there are the Disney theme parks. Imagine “Philbin Funny Money” as the currency of choice at every Disney park on earth. A Regis Philbin costumed character would be walking around, signing autographs and taking pictures with your children. “Millionaire Country” would be the next new land, complete with attractions like “Mister Philbin’s Wild Ride Through The Mint,” and “Great Moments with Mister Eisner.”

Regis Philbin, today television -- tomorrow, the world! Disneyworld, that is.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


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08/12/99: Dressing Down...and Out

© 2000, Greg Crosby