Rewind to the Sept. 4, 2012, edition of “Live With Kelly,” the WABC/7 cash machine that a year before had lost a legend (Regis Philbin) and that morning had just announced his replacement: Michael Strahan, No. 92 himself, and the former Giants sack king.
“Live,” Kelly Ripa told the newcomer, is “one of those places once you walk in, you never walk out . . .”
Now that we know how that prediction turned out, let’s get to the questions. Strahan — who joins “Good Morning America” as co-anchor in the fall — walks away from “Live” Friday impacting a pair of ABC franchises. What sort of impact? Let’s not make any Kelly predictions, but it is reasonably safe to say, they are significant.
Why the haste in leaving “Live” as co-host when he was originally scheduled to start as “Good Morning America” co-anchor in the fall?
The overheated coverage of this has suggested — make that insisted — that “Live” couldn’t continue with the charade of both hosts pretending to like each other. Maybe, maybe not, but Strahan is still starting full time at “GMA” in the fall. What’s different is that he’ll appear on “GMA” much more often over the summer (he’s been a semiregular the past couple of years).
There’s a good reason for the increased presence: When the Summer Olympics air on NBC Aug. 5 to Aug. 21, “GMA” will slide back to second behind “Today” for the first time since 2012. Whether it slides back to first is an open question — “Today” has been resurgent — but at least “GMA” and Strahan will have had the summer to remind viewers he is about to become a full-time co-anchor. That gives “GMA” continuity and Strahan time to settle into the gig. Doing both shows would’ve confused viewers and exhausted Strahan — who will also host a game show over the summer.
Why is Strahan leaving for “GMA” anyway?
He’s a big star, and a big reason “Live” remains one of the top-rated talk shows on all of TV. Moreover, ABC’s “upfront” meeting with advertisers is next week, and the network gets to introduce No. 92 as a key part of its future. Advertisers — like everyone else — know “GMA” is waning just as “Today” is waxing. This move — as they like to say in TV — changes the “optics” of that story. Translation: It softens the blow.
Let’s settle this once and for all — did Strahan and Kelly not get along off-air?
That’s what the all-knowing “reports” say, while back in the good old days — his glorious run as an all-pro defensive end with the Giants — some teammates did consider him “stubborn, overly sensitive, egotistical, insecure, moody and petty,” per a 2002 profile by Newsday’s Neil Best. (Strahan told Best, “I have to hear these negative, fictional, inaccurate, anonymous-source things about me . . . which is all so untrue.”) In fact, Strahan was well-liked at “Live” as far as I can tell. Ripa was angered that she got the news minutes before a mid-April telecast (then took her famous “sick-out”). As she told People.com, in an interview posted Wednesday, that had to do with disrespect on the part of management, not necessarily disregard for her co-host. (Okay, admittedly we haven't settled this once and for all. Sorry).
What are the risks for Strahan?
Here’s one — some TV observers think Strahan is leaving the better job. After all, “GMA” is trending down, “Today” up. (“Live” is stable). Moreover, this is an ABC News franchise, not a syndicated program produced by WABC. Strahan — excellent on the Oscar red carpet, and proficient on “Live” — now has to build up his news chops, and there will be news that he will indeed have to report or reflect upon. Urgent news, or tragic news, or major world news will absolutely happen — that’s a guarantee — and Strahan must sit alongside two seasoned anchors, Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos, while conveying both information and gravitas. That means an adjustment in style. He’ll have to dial back some of the “Live” silliness — that’s a given — or just enough to make the transition between morning fluff and serious reporting less implausible.
Another risk for Strahan — he’s a very busy guy. He has a clothing line; he’s co-chief of SMAC Entertainment, a talent agency and production company; he’s a mainstay of “Fox NFL Sunday;” he’s active in charity and commercial work; and he’s hosting a revival of “The $20,000 Pyramid.” When will he have time for “GMA?”
What’s “Live” going to do?
Look for a new host. Simple! There’s no urgency, no timetable either. “Live” took eight months to sort through 59 candidates back in 2011 before settling on one of the most improbable of them. There will be five guest hosts next week, beginning with Jimmy Kimmel. Week after that, Fred Savage will host two days (Monday and Tuesday). This on-going star search should work to "Live's" benefit: Anytime someone guest-hosts four or five times in a row, the audience will decide he must be The One. If someone gets a call-back (or two), then they'll decide he must be the One. And so on. Guessing games are fun, just not productive, or necessarily accurate.
Two immediate issues for "Live," however: Strahan will still be on the air, and -- in fact -- on that little show that is scheduled just before. This won't be a Regis repeat. In addition, the show will be on hiatus in August, which means the try-out process will be on hiatus too.
Who will the new host be?
Of course, I don’t know. Of course, “Live” doesn’t know. Nevertheless, here’s a hint — it’s not anyone you think it will be. But the next guy must have several qualities — chemistry with Kelly, some sex appeal, and a willingness to do just about anything. And believe me, as host of “Live” you will be asked to do just about anything -- a reason Strahan didn't merely endure here, but triumphed here.