It’s the one question even Regis Philbin doesn’t know the answer to: Who will fill Kathie Lee Gifford’s highbacked chair after the singer/ actress/ lightning rod leaves the addictively fluffy morning show on July 28? ”Every woman who is a lot of fun at a cocktail party will pitch herself, as will husbands who think their wives are perfect for the job,” says ”Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” executive producer Michael Gelman, who says he plans to take his time finding a successor. ”There are a lot of opinions out there. I’m pretty good at listening to what everybody is saying, then ignoring it and doing what I want.” Terrific — then he’s gonna love this piece, wherein we analyze the pros and cons of each high-profile candidate for the job, and assess (with the help of Gelman and ”Live”’s executive in charge of production, Art Moore) where each of them stands.
LISA LING, cohost of ABC’s ”The View”
UPSIDE Young, sassy, experienced at dishing out a.m. chatter, and — as those Old Navy ads make clear — packs a mean cartwheel.
DOWNSIDE Despite what you may have heard, she insists she’s not interested in the job. ”I have a hard enough time [dealing] with the ladies on our show,” says the 26-year-old Ling. ”And as much as I love Regis, I would like to see [him with] a woman around his age because I think it would really set a bad example of an older man with a younger woman. It perpetuates the sort of notion of old guys and young babes. I’m over that.”
MARIA BARTIROMO, a.k.a. CNBC’s Money Honey
UPSIDE Her reporting work on Wall Street makes her a natural cohost for Mr. ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
DOWNSIDE Like Ling, she too has publicly said she’s not interested, and word has it that her CNBC contract — recently renewed for five years — is virtually impossible to weasel out of.
JOY PHILBIN, former host of ”Haven” on Home and Garden Television, and wife of Regis
UPSIDE Sleeps with the man who single-handedly reversed ABC’s fortunes.
DOWNSIDE The domestic coziness could lead to lots of nauseating banter — do we really want to know whether the Reege leaves the toilet seat up at home? ”She’s someone we’ve used as a guest host and will use again,” admits Moore.
FLORENCE HENDERSON, talking head on NBC’s ”The View” knockoff, ”Later Today”
UPSIDE The former Mrs. Brady’s Kathie Lee-style perkiness factor is off the charts.
DOWNSIDE She hasn’t exactly lit the Nielsens on fire over at the Peacock. ”At this stage we’re not eliminating her,” says Moore, ”but the likelihood of her doing this, with her current job, doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
JOAN LUNDEN, ex-”Good Morning America” host, Claritin hawker, journalistic journeywoman
UPSIDE After dealing with the viper pit that is ”GMA,” handling dear old acerbic Reege would be a piece of cake.
DOWNSIDE ”She’s not going to go back and repeat herself,” says Moore.
VANNA WHITE, ”Wheel of Fortune” tile turner
UPSIDE Has proven she’s a master at stringing together some pretty impressive words (or at least vowels and consonants).
DOWNSIDE ”She’s got a great job,” says Moore. ”And I think she’s very happy in California. Why would she move?”
CYBILL SHEPHERD, former sitcom star and the author of a popular tell-all autobiography
UPSIDE Shepherd claims, ”I thrive on the live” (although that doesn’t explain why she sometimes insisted her last series be taped without an audience).
DOWNSIDE People don’t exactly crave a steaming cup of diva in the morning. ”For the type of show that we do, she’s not necessarily the right personality,” says Moore.
UPSIDE ”Oftentimes fame brings baggage, and I don’t think we need that,” says Gelman. ”I can’t think of too many people out there whom America is dying to see and who can bring huge ratings to our show.”
DOWNSIDE Two words: Debbie Matenopoulos.