Michael Strahan . . . Kelly Ripa . . . “LIVE With Kelly and Michael” . . . Three names and suddenly, lots of interesting questions and — at the risk of overstatement — even consequential ones.
As you are doubtless aware, Ripa staged a walkout last week after ABC executives abruptly told her that co-host Michael Strahan would be joining “Good Morning America” in September. She found out minutes before airtime April 18, and did not return the following day, or any one thereafter. ABC hurriedly tried to contain the damage — her time off was prescheduled, per the statement — but struggled to find anyone who actually believed it. Strahan, on the air this morning, said she was celebrating her 20th anniversary with Mark Consuelos, and will indeed be back Tuesday, as she indicated to the staff via email last week.
Now, those questions:
Will Strahan turn up on “LIVE” Tuesday when Ripa returns?
This question actually got some traction last week — when I was on vacation, but could hear the sonic booms from the fallout anyway. And for good reason. With that carefully groomed Ripa/Strahan on-air camaraderie now in tiny little pieces on the ground, why struggle with the pretense of putting them all back together? There are many good reasons — all involving money — but Strahan obviously needs to be here, and needs to keep on smiling. He will do both. He has an important transition to get ready for, and “Live” has one, too. This is his job for the moment. Time to pick up those pieces, 92 (Strahan’s number, as you know, for the Giants). Time for Ripa, too.
Should Ripa be censured for her walkout?
You already know the answer to that: of course she won’t be censured, because ABC has already publicly said this was prescheduled. Nevertheless, walk-offs — let’s make the assumption this was indeed one — are rare and serious. A news anchor indulging in this kind of behavior would be fired (many years ago, Dan Rather left just before air, and “Evening News” went to black for a few minutes; those minutes were an eternity, but he survived). But Ripa’s not an anchor, and (in fact) she almost certainly consulted with her management/lawyers/agents before making the move. It was a shot across Disney’s bow, not a shot into the bow. My feeling to this is, so what? She’s entitled to some emotion here, and she’s entitled to some display of that. Besides, ABC handled this poorly. A few days cooling off doesn’t hurt anyone, and promises a vast tune-in Tuesday — so vast that I can almost imagine this was gleefully planned by everyone, from Disney on down.
Then there's always history: As Giants fans recall, 92 staged his own walkout back in 2007 when he refused to attend the opening days of training camp; he and Big Blue went on to win the Super Bowl that season. Other than Giants fans -- who could care less, after all -- no one remembers the walkout.
Why was Ripa the last to know?
This is the most baffling question of all. Everyone knew Strahan was being groomed for “GMA” when he joined part-time in 2014. Everyone knew he’d get the call to go from the minors (“Live”) to the majors (“GMA”) the minute “Today” threatened to topple the mother ship. Everyone knew he’s the bigger star here — with a clothing line, best-seller (“Wake Up Happy”), the red carpet Oscar gig, also that Fox one.
Everyone knew, except for Ripa. Maybe she did know, or at least expected this to eventually happen. Her visceral reaction obviously didn’t reflect surprise as much as anger. She had no control over the outcome.
Yes, ABC bumbled the news and handling of it, so there’s some justifiable anger. But behind this anger is possibly fear (anger and fear are usually conjoined): She knows the show is vulnerable without him, knows she is as well. She also knows she has to go through that onerous process of finding a new co-host. This cattle call may be more fun for the audience than for her. Besides, the outcome is far from certain.
Meanwhile, another way to look at this: The abruptness of both move and announcement may indicate just how concerned ABC is about "GMA," particularly heading into the vital fourth quarter.
Do Kelly and Michael hate each other?
You doubtless read a million stories on this subject last week. They never even talk backstage! They never socialize! He hates her! She hates him! Etc.
It’s all clickbait, plus seeming evidence of the reason Strahan is happy to go. But who really knows whether any of this is true, and even if it is, it’s irrelevant. It’s called “acting” for a reason, and even the best talk show hosts are skillful actors.
But keep in mind that the host chat format — which “Live” and the great talker himself, Regis Philbin, pioneered — requires that co-hosts never talk before showtime, and only rarely socialize after. Reeg and Kathie Lee Gifford even used separate hallways when entering the studio. They’d talk for the first time the minute the cameras were hot. This lent spontaneity and even authenticity. The same, I suspect, with 92 and Ripa, which could suggest to outsiders that there’s animosity. But as noted, if there is, who cares? This is a big business, not a coffee klatsch.
Does this move spell big trouble for “Live?”
Indeed yes. This is the key question, possibly the one Ripa is most worried about. In January, “Live” was renewed through 2020. But that was “LIVE With Kelly and Michael.” What about “LIVE With Kelly and The Guy Who’s Gonna Replace Michael?”
I’m sure the renewal stands, but what does not stand is continued assurance of success. Strahan was a lucky find for “Live” Can “Live” get so lucky again?
Also consider this: “GMA” is almost certainly gearing up for a move to expand into 9 a.m. This has been a source of speculation for years; “Today” established the template, and templates have a way of replicating. Third hours are wonderful tools for a morning show: Cheap to produce, effortless audience lead-in; and an excellent way to groom talent for the 7 a.m. show. George Stephanopoulos isn’t going to be at “GMA” forever. If all works out, Strahan will be.
Meanwhile, if “GMA” consumes the 9 a.m. hour, where does “Live” go? Possibly to 10 a.m. (best case) or sometime in the afternoon (worst case).
Ripa has lots of factors to keep her up nights, but she’s also still got “Live” executive producer Michael Gelman. Even if she’s mad at him for the blindside, he’s been through all this before. Maybe it’s a good idea for her to patch things up with up Gelman.
There is some good news for Ripa and company: ABC and Disney need this lucrative venture. Not merely lucrative, "Live" is a hugely important promotional venue for other (Disney-owned) shows and movies. The rest of the entertainment industry needs "Live" too. If only for this reason, "Live" probably has a glorious future -- just one without 92.