Originally created 09/15/03

'Ali & Jack' premieres Monday morning

NEW YORK -- On Monday morning, as Regis and Kelly seat themselves before the cameras for the venerable "Live," another pair of co-hosts just a few blocks away will be launching their own live, syndicated daytime talk show.

Say hello to "Living It Up! with Ali & Jack" (Monday, 9 a.m., WJBF-TV).

Ali Wentworth, 36, is a pretty, quick-witted actress and comic whose credits include the Fox sketch-comedy series "In Living Color," the films "Office Space" and "The Love Bug," and a road-tripping feature for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Jack Ford, 52, who resembles a younger, strikingly handsome version of the actor William Devane, is a former trial lawyer who during two decades in TV news reported for NBC, then for ABC as anchor-correspondent on "Good Morning America" and "20/20."

Ali is a charming cutup. Jack is easygoing. Even during lunch with a reporter last month, before any test shows had been taped, Ali & Jack displayed the sort of chemistry befitting the ampersand that links them.

"I got her phone number off the wall at the Port Authority," Jack replies when asked what brought them together & Ali, not missing a beat, recites the message he found: "Looking for a co-host: 50s, gray hair, good-looking."

The truth is a little more routine. King World, producers of the series, reckoned there was room in the TV universe for a twist on the Regis Philbin-Kelly Ripa standard. There were lots of auditions. It was Ali & Jack who clicked.

"We were fortunate," says Jack. "We got along right away. Besides, we reflect different backgrounds and where we are in our lives. My kids are 21 and 17. Ali's daughter is a baby. All that lends itself to good conversation."

If the formula (host chat, celebrity guests, studio audience, some comedy and music) sounds comfortably similar to "Live," Ali & Jack represent the X factor.

"We'll basically be Living It Up the whole hour," vows Ali, rolling her eyes.

"Not our favorite title," Jack agrees.

"We think somebody in the mailroom came up with it as a joke," says Ali, "and it stuck."

"When I told my family, 'Well, they're gonna go with Living It Up,' my son, who's in junior high school, said, 'Y'know, Dad, there's a Ja Rule song called Livin' It Up.' He says, 'I'll play it for you.' And it's the most obscenity-laden -"

"It's our theme song," Ali cuts in.

A native of Washington, D.C., Ali Wentworth was working in Los Angeles two years ago when she met and, shortly thereafter, wed George Stephanopoulos, a former adviser to President Clinton who became an ABC News correspondent.

"I moved East," she says, "then I got pregnant on our honeymoon. So I decided, 'I'm off the air for a while."' She flashes a comically demure smile. "I just thought, 'I'm gonna be Mrs. Stephanopoulos."'

Then, on a whim, she auditioned for a new talk show.

"But when I walked in eight months pregnant, I thought for sure they'd say, 'OK, thank you very much, goodbye."'

A native of Jersey City, N.J., Jack Ford had gone from practicing law to a job in 1983 as legal commentator for New York's CBS affiliate. He spent five years at NBC News as a correspondent and co-anchor of "Weekend Today," then moved to ABC in 1999.

Insisting he won't miss reporting now, Jack explains, "I was interested in doing something where I wouldn't be doing all that traveling. I still get to do live television, which I love to do, and I'm home for dinner every night. It's the perfect job for this time in my life."

"I love improv, I love spontaneity," says Ali. "But I don't think that my husband thought when we got married that I was gonna have a daytime talk show. I think he figured he was marrying an actress who would go to Prague and do a Merchant-Ivory film. He was thinking Gwyneth Paltrow. He ended up with Phyllis Diller."

Don't look for Stephanopoulos (who, as anchor of ABC's politics-focused "This Week," planned Sunday to unveil a new format for the broadcast, but not the new title "Living It Up! with George") to be a guest on his wife's show. He and Ali occupy opposite ends of the broadcasting spectrum, she observes.

"I don't exactly ask my husband how to punch up a joke, nor" - she adds with deft timing - "does he ask me ... you know ... ANYthing."

Happily for viewers, asking Ali anything, and getting it right back, is now Jack's fun new job.

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