At a party at the Canadian consulate general’s residence, Pat Kiernan, NY1 morning anchor and pride of Alberta, is confessing to some un-Canadian ambition. Specifically, he wants Regis Philbin’s job once Philbin is done with it at the end of this season.
He knows he’ll have competition—soap star turned reality-TV fixture Lisa Rinna has allegedly been trying to angle herself into contention. But Kiernan, who has apparently thought this through, is counting on an advantage. “There are people in New York City who have Time Warner Cable and people who don’t,” he says. And so long as the Live! With Regis and Kelly producers are among the former, they’ll have at least seen his work, which, as any Time Warner customer knows, has a way of being unmissable. “If they turn off their cable box and turn it back on, it comes to NY1. And if they do that in the morning, there I am.” A plan is taking shape. “I need to sneak into the Time Warner Cable offices and find out if Kelly Ripa has it. If so, I hope she’s a fan.”
As NY1’s morning anchor since 1997, the 42-year-old Kiernan has gained a lot of those. Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers are on record as Pat Kiernan people. Gawker has called him “unironically beloved,” not a label Gawker uses lightly. This winter, the people at The Daily Show tweeted their love for Kiernan’s strangely satisfying “In the Papers” segment, which basically consists of Kiernan sitting at his anchor desk and pointing out the most interesting stories in that day’s newspapers, one at a time. They now call this “news curation,” and fortunes can be made on it. “I’m not claiming ownership of the concept, like Al Gore and the Internet,” says Kiernan, “but I was ahead of my time.”
With the jazz stylings of Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes not proving ideal for conversation, a consular staffer leads us into a sitting room where Lewis Lapham—father-in-law to a daughter of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney—used to smoke when that kind of thing was still allowed. Settling into an armchair, Kiernan continues his pitch. “Live! is a combination of the two things I have done in my career. One, it’s a show about New York City. Regis and Kelly have never tried to pretend they’re not in New York. Instead, they try to be inclusive about it. And two, it has an obsession with pop culture. I’ve hosted three different game shows, including the World Series of Pop Culture on VH1. Live! is a rare intersection of my two specialties.”
One of the other game shows Kiernan hosted was Grand Slam on the Game Show Network. “I’m really good at reading questions, even though I know that sounds ridiculous. In a matter of seconds, I had to listen to the answers, adjudicate the responses, and announce the score. If you get that wrong, you ruin the show. It might have been the hardest thing I have ever done.” On TV? “In life,” Kiernan replies.
Kiernan knows what he’s not suited for. The Price Is Right, for one. “Bob Barker had this ability to really feel the contestants’ enthusiasm,” he says. “I’m a little more dispassionate.” The national morning shows also don’t necessarily interest him. “Why would I go to CBS to be on The Early Show? How many hosts have they had in the nearly fourteen years I’ve been on NY1? Let’s try to count: Bryant Gumbel, the lady who sat next to Bryant Gumbel, Jane Clayson, Harry Smith with the three women. Why would I leave my franchise at NY1 to be another cog in the wheel?”
At this point, a reporter for Reuters opens the door to the room and introduces himself to Kiernan. More un-Canadian-ness: “You might have read a few of my stories,” the reporter tells him.
“Look, my goal is not to be a 60 Minutes correspondent,” Kiernan continues. “I’ve had fun hosting game shows and fun making snow angels on the roof of NY1, like we did this winter. That’s why Live! is so appealing. There is tremendous range on that show.” Also, the hours would be slightly better. Kiernan has been on-set at NY1 at 4 A.M. every weekday for the past thirteen years. “That’s a lot of mornings to be waking up early.” When he signed a contract extension with NY1 in November, he negotiated himself an out. (“There is freedom for me to leave to do … national programming,” he explains.)
Kiernan’s to-do list, then: (1) Get a tryout as a weeklong co-host on Live! (2) Convince his bosses that he still values his current job.
The party is drawing to a close. “I don’t want to be disloyal to NY1,” he says. “I love that gig. But I went into it thinking it was a stepping-stone. I ran into some guy in a Borders recently who said, ‘Pat Kiernan! I grew up watching you!’ I thought: Oh my God! There’s a generation that has grown up watching me? It might be time to explore new opportunities.”