“Live With Kelly and Michael” co-host Michael Strahan will leave the show three months ahead of schedule, ABC has confirmed — hours after Kelly Ripa returned to the air Tuesday morning after a week’s absence. He will leave the show May 13 instead of September.
Earlier Tuesday on “Live,” proffering olive branches to Disney while getting a long — and rapturous — welcome from the studio audience and Strahan, Ripa returned to the air, wearing a red jumpsuit and a broad smile. She instantly pitched this icebreaker — “Our long national nightmare is over” — then this follow-up: “Look, I’m going to be completely honest. I am fairly certain there are trained professional snipers with tranquilizer darts if I drift off message.”
She did not. Ripa staged an angry walkout from “Live” beginning last Tuesday after she learned that Strahan (who joined “Live” four years ago) was to join “Good Morning America.” She had not learned of his departure until minutes before airtime on Monday and — infuriated that she was among the last to know — decided to take off some days.
One of the biggest TV stories of the year was born.
Calling this particular story and absence “a bizarre time,” she then said, “I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts. After 26 years with this company, I earned the right. I know half of you called in sick to be here, so we get each other.”
“I gained some perspective. I always speak from the heart. I didn’t want to say something I would regret. So what transpired over the course of a few days has been extraordinary. It started a much greater conversation — about communication and consideration and, most importantly, respect in the workplace. I don’t consider this just a workplace. This is my second home — a place I’ve devoted myself to.”
She added that “apologies have been made, and the best thing to come out of this is that our parent company has assured me ‘Live’ is a priority.”
Then, to Strahan: “I am thrilled for Michael. This is a tremendous opportunity. I couldn’t be prouder of you and everything we accomplished.”
Strahan’s turn: “I am so happy you are back. You love this show, you love the fans, you love the staff. I love you and I am so happy you are here.”
He said: “You are the queen of morning television.”
Ripa’s dramatic Tuesday return along with the drama that preceded it has been exhaustively, breathlessly covered (mostly by the tabloid media) from every angle — literally every one, including (even) a tight shot of a book she was seen holding last week — the back cover of Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling,” as if she were subtly casting herself in the role of David to Disney’s (or perhaps Strahan’s?) Goliath.
The gender dynamics angle has been explored, as well — notably whether one of the wealthiest women on TV was just one more pawn in the endless TV chess game played mostly by men. Janice Min, chief of The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group, in fact used the chess analogy on CNN’s “Informed Sources” on Monday, telling anchor and host Brian Stelter, “It looked like it was men playing chess and she got left out of the game.”
Indeed it did, which has given this ongoing story some added propulsion and even added emotion. In this particular narrative, Ripa becomes just another in a long line of women mistreated by male executives, who either botched transitions in which female stars were key protagonists or who were simply blind to the so-called “optics” of the fallout.
Simply put, Ripa became just another Ann Curry in this storyline.
Except, not quite. Ripa’s cheerful Tuesday truce was hardly tearful — even remotely — and she also seemed less willing to cast herself in the role of victim. A “victim” would of course change the dynamic of this chatty, happy talk show that is hardly ever preoccupied with “gender politics”’ — make that never preoccupied. Moreover, there really is no “victim” here anyway: Ripa, in the last year of a contract, makes more than $20 million a year, to Strahan’s (reported) $10 million. His management team doubtlessly will be addressing that iniquity when he makes the move to “GMA.”
In fact, the only issue here is money. The show must go on, especially “GMA” — the most important ongoing TV enterprise in the entire Disney kingdom with the possible sole exception of ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Strahan’s messy handoff here can’t be carried over to “GMA” — that would hurt both him and “GMA.” Instead, he, Ripa and “Live” have four months to make amends and also to make people forget.
Meanwhile, her show must go on, too. “Live” is a vital franchise for both WABC/7 and the network. They now need to make Ripa happy. That process began at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Strahan’s early exit gives “Live” the summer to begin the process of finding a replacement.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how many months ahead of schedule Straham is leaving “LIVE!”