Regis Philbin is retiring from television at the end of this TV season. He's ending a career in television that seems to pre-date the invention of television, and he's doing it before complete fossilization.
If I was of the Don Rickles frame of mind I could say that he quit entertainment decades ago, but I won't, because I'm a nice guy.
However, Mr. Philbin is a rarity because it looks like he chose to retire at this time.
That's rare, because when it comes to appearing on television if you're in it, you are not leaving it, damn the low ratings and obvious senility. The most obvious example is Larry King who had to be dragged out of the studio by his ever present suspenders even though he himself had quit journalism some time in the 1980s. They forced him out to make room for a new show where a new talk show host appears to interview other talk show hosts, but I digress.
There are some people who linger on TV long past their prime, and refuse to leave, regardless of their age, health, and sometimes obvious senility. They just keep going on and on, turning off viewers, embarrassing themselves, and destroying whatever legacy they had.
Most refuse to let go and retire, regardless of their wealth, because they need something more than money. They need to be important, and to be important they need to be on television. It's like crack.
Now you're probably wondering how these people are allowed to linger for so long in such a harsh and money driven business like TV, well one reason is peer pressure.
You see, most of these gray eminences are based out of New York. New York's media high society is a very insular community and protective of those they think of as "their own." Guess who are the core of this little community: The same old farts clogging up the airways.
No network executive wants to be ostracized from all the best dinner parties and gala social events. That's where they get to show off their importance. Best to just eat the losses because it's other people's money anyway.
The second reason is nostalgia. These are the people that the executives grew up watching, and are still held with a certain amount of awe.
The third reason is a complete failure of imagination coupled with terror. These executives can't imagine bringing in anyone new because that would take effort to find the new talent, and terror at the possibility that the road might get bumpy. So they think it's best to stick with the devil they know and hope that things don't get worse.
That's why you don't see a lot of these old timers retire by choice, they don't want to give up their crack, and the networks are too scared to get rid of them. Usually TV personalities have to be forced out after doing something really embarrassing in public. Even then it's tough.
That's why you have to know that in life, as in comedy, you have to know when to get off the stage. Because eventually the audience is going to stop clapping, wonder why the hell they're there, and start leaving in droves.