When the syndicated morning show Live With Regis and Kathie Lee wraps up its weekday telecast, the studio audience politely mobs hosts Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford for autographs before the two of them escape the set. Then, pens in hand, the fans go straight for Michael Gelman, Live’s quiet executive producer and, reluctantly, one of daytime TV’s most popular recurring characters.
At the start of nearly every show, Philbin turns the focus on Gelman, berating him over lost props, criticizing his new hairdo — anything to get a laugh. His teeth clenched in a smile, Gelman, 29, responds with the endearingly panicked look of a college freshman facing his first pop quiz.
As Live grows in popularity (the show is now seen on 195 stations, and Gifford had the scoop on Donald Trump and Marla Maples’ recent engagement), so does Gelman, who has become a sort of poster boy for bachelorhood since the show went national in 1988. ”I’ve told them enough about Gelman to make him a mythical creature,” says Philbin. ”Late 20s, bachelor, producer — come on! This is King Kong we have here!” Although Gelman has been going steady with the same woman for more than two years, fans flatter him with marriage proposals and pictures. ”A lot of mothers and grandmothers want to fix me up with their daughters,” says Gelman, who recently found it necessary to get an unlisted phone number.
Their on-air squabbling aside, Gelman and his boss are good friends — though the producer has vetoed Philbin’s latest threat, a nationwide Gelman Lookalike Contest. ”It’d be a scream, but he wimped out,” says Philbin. ”We’re gonna do it, I think, this November.”