This might surprise casual followers who think of Gumbel as the guy who bristled when David Letterman boomed wisecracks through a megaphone during an outdoor taping of the "Today" show and was the author of an infamous memo to network execs, accusing "Today" co-workers of not taking their jobs seriously enough.
But there's another Gumbel who's often overlooked, the one who used to host "Survivor" finales and the Emmy Awards, the one who endured countless cooking segments during two stints on morning talk shows, the one who gamely made a cameo in the Nicolas Cage movie "The Weather Man."
In other words, Gumbel, 64, is a lot more fun than people give him credit for, which is why it's borderline criminal that he no longer appears on TV regularly.
When not sharing his off-the-record thoughts on Jodie Foster's acceptance speech, Gumbel hinted during a phone interview last week that he might consider returning to the daily grind of daytime TV.
Until then, there's plenty to talk about, including a new season of his HBO show "Real Sports," which kicks off at 10 p.m. today.
And then there's a certain athlete Gumbel took to task in an on-air editorial last fall.
Q. No one has been more critical of Lance Armstrong than you. Now that he has confessed to doping, can you muster up any sympathy?
A. I don't want to be the person who can't find it in his heart to find forgiveness, but the way he's handled himself and assailed his critics makes it hard.
I mean, he vilified anyone who came up against him, so much so that you can't just give him a do-over.
Q. What if he called up and said he wanted to appear on "Real Sports"?
A. I'd be happy to sit down and talk with him, but I don't think he's going to do that. I don't think he wants to answer difficult questions that will make him uncomfortable. He's going to choose the path of least resistance.
Q. The most natural broadcasters of our generation are you and Bob Costas. Is it just a coincidence that you both come from a sports background?
A. Thank you. This is something I dealt with when I made the transition from sports to news with great uproar. I always thought sports was a great training ground because you have to think on your feet and make sense of something that's somewhat complex in a limited time frame.
Q. Plus, you have to deal with athletes, who may be the most difficult subjects in the world.
A. I tell my wife, and she's not a sports fan, that models are the equivalent of athletes. For a while, everyone beats a path to their door and treats them special. They soon realize they don't need to be nice to get what they want. But just like beauty, athletic skills fade and then they don't know how to conduct themselves.
Q. For years, you've said you're not interested in returning to daily television. Have you changed your mind?
A. I don't know how to answer that question. People have asked. I have considered it, but have not jumped.
I certainly don't want to do a show where people are yelling at each other. If I could find a way to engage people in discussion without that, I might be interested.
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