Kathie Lee says goodbye to `Live'

Television: The talk show co-host shocked viewers with her announcement yesterday. It won't be the same without her.

March 01, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

One of the things that kept me going over the years was imagining a Kathie Lee Gifford interview with Saddam Hussein. ("Wow, you look great! Did you lose weight? C'mon, let's hear it for the Butcher of Baghdad!")

Now, in the wake of her stunning on-air announcement yesterday that she's leaving "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" when her contract expires this summer, the possibility of her chatting up the Iraqi strongman ("Is that a new sidearm? It's gorgeous!") seems remote.

But a guy can dream, can't he?

Some people remember where they were when JFK was assassinated, or when Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon, or when the O.J. Simpson verdict was read.

Me, I'll always remember where I was when Kathie Lee hung up her mike.

I was on a treadmill at my health club, the overhead TV locked on "Live" as it always is at that time, because God forbid we should have some variety in programming while we're working to stave off that massive coronary.

The studio audience gasped when Kathie Lee said she was leaving.

"Oh, I was hoping you'd do that!" she told the crowd, but of course she couldn't see me gasping too -- and not just because I'd accidentally jacked the treadmill speed up to 7 mph.

No, I was gasping because the woman herself, and her role on the show, have always provided many of us with a perverse pleasure five days a week.

And soon this pleasure would be gone.

Soon there'd be no more endless stories about little Cody and Cassidy negotiating the tricky shoals of childhood.

No more eyeball-rolling and shrill cries of "Oh, Reege!" as her diminutive co-host leered at the decolletage of some fetching Hollywood starlet while probing said starlet for details of her love life.

No more awkward gigs when Regis is away with the likes of Henry Winkler. (Henry Winkler! What happened, was Erik Estrada unavailable? Did Martin Mull get X'd out of the Rolodex?)

No more of those goofy poolside shows in Hawaii, where Regis and Kathie Lee walk around with their dorky shades and leis and pale skin like the other 50,000 tourists in Honolulu, and the high point of the show is ancient island crooner Don Ho croaking out tunes.

No more Olympic-level name-dropping ("Did I tell you we went skiing with the Gerry Fords this weekend?")

No more endless and unctuous self-promotion of this upcoming Kathie Lee holiday special on TV or that upcoming Kathie Lee concert in Atlantic City.

Whew! What in God's name will we do for entertainment at 9 in the morning?

Ironically, Gifford said she was leaving the show not because of any contract problems, but because of privacy concerns for her two children, Cody, now 10, and Cassidy, 7. Here's a woman who used to go on and on and on about her kids during the host-chat segment with Regis at the top of the show. But apparently she's seen the light. It's a crazy world out there, she said.

"The very thing that has made the show so successful -- host chat -- is the thing that caused a real concern in my life that my children be protected," she said.

In the end, maybe she got tired, too, of taking shots from Howard Stern, for the sweat-shop conditions at the factory that manufactured her designer clothing.

And maybe she got tired of the embarrassment her husband Frank caused her by cavorting one night with another woman, the whole sordid business ending up in a supermarket tabloid.

The good news, though, is that her contract with ABC doesn't expire until August.

So we still have a few more months of vintage "Live" with both Regis and Kathie Lee: the meandering host-chats, the fawning celebrity interviews, the bizarre juxtaposition of guests ("Thank you, General Schwarzkopf. Up next, the wonderful star of `All My Children,' Miss Susan Lucci!")

But "Live" without Kathie Lee?

The treadmill will never be the same.

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