(USA Today) -- Regis Philbin left his co-host gig with Kelly Ripa last year after 28 seasons. Family, friends and stars dropped by to pay tribute. Tears flowed.
And now he's coming back on the air -- with a new partner.
On Monday, the daytime talk show king will be sitting in Rachael Ray's kitchen.
"I tried to make a distinct point that I wasn't retiring, that I was moving on," he says a tad defensively in a phone call interview on Monday. "Everybody said 'retired'!"
Philbin, 81, who exited Live! with Regis and Kelly in November with that sweet farewell, says he has been doing just fine.
"I feel terrific! I've enjoyed my time."
But life has changed. "I sleep now until quarter to 10," admits the man who would leave his upper West Side shortly before 9 and walk across the street to the Live! studios every day.
"I don't know why I'm waking up so late. The body is just enjoying this."
Sleeping late means he's hasn't seen his old show and its new co-host, Michael Strahan. "I like Strahan a lot. I've known him for years," says Philbin. "He was a Giant here - in many ways. Had a big following with the New York Giants. He's very funny. He's got a great sense of humor. I haven't seen too much of the show. I haven't seen the opening. How is it?"
When he left Live! last year, Philbin -- who had just broken the Guinness World Record for the "Most Hours on U.S. Television" -- said he was toying with the idea of a reality show. What happened to that? "I tried it just to suit myself and see what it would be like." What he found out was that it was "not my kind of reality."
In other words, he says, reality shows "just don't happen. They're well-planned. I didn't like it."What he did like was doing a guest-star stint on the TV Land sitcom, Hot in Cleveland, playing Betty White's love interest. "I just did my second show a couple weeks ago. This is the first show of the new season. (Look for it on Nov. 28.) The last show was when Betty White discovered me and I discovered her. Everybody thinks I'm gay and Betty White apeals to me," he says with a chuckle.
He found that acting was quite different than doing a talk show. "Those actresses - Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli - over the years, I've interviewed all of them. But I never understood all they have to do until I had to learn those lines. It's amazing. It really is. I struggled with my memory - I ad libbed that host chat for 28 years! Suddenly I've had to come up with lines."
So, he says, "I'm not working that much, but I'm out there."When the call came from Rachael Ray to come in once a month as a recurring co-host, he figured why not. "I'm not gonna say I don't want to do your show! I think it's fun. I spent my whole life doing this." The difference now, he says: "It's not the every-morning burden."
Even though he'll be side-by-side with Ray in the kitchen for the full hour, Philbin' says, "I'm not a co-host, I'm just a guy showing up on her show once a month." He adds, "I love the idea. It's fun to be back on TV when you don't have to do it every day."
Besides, he says, "I like her a lot. I've done her show a number of times. She has followed my show here in New York at 10. She has become a friend. (My wife) Joy and I have been to her home. She and her husband John have been to ours. She's a little dynamo."
And it's mutual. Ray says in her announcement, "It'll be a blast having him on the team."
Janet Annino, exec producer of the show, adds, "When he's visited our show in the past you can feel their chemistry come through the screen! He's a perfect fit for our show, and for the viewers who miss spending part of their day with him."
So is Reege ready to start cooking?"No, I'm not a cook," he says, explaining the extent of his kitchen skills. "I can make a sandwich. To pieces of bread and you lay a little cheese or something on there. Add some mustard. Bang! I've made some lunch!
He adds, "I would love to let her teach me that I could cook here at home and really surprise my wife."
Whatever they wind up doing, he says, "We'll have a good time.'