Sometimes it’s spot-on to judge a book by its cover.
While the ABC network spin machine labored on overdrive, and even stripped a few gears, to sell the dubious idea that everything is awesome over at Live! with Kelly and Michael and Good Morning America, at least one player in the ongoing melodrama got her message out Thursday without uttering a word.
Shortly after 8 a.m., as she smilingly strolled from the front door of her Manhattan townhouse to a waiting SUV and a supposedly quiet weekend with her family, Kelly Ripa made sure the paparazzi could see the paperback she was toting. It was pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell’s latest bestseller, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
There was no mistaking which side of the equation Ripa believes she’s on, having been blindsided by ABC President Ben Sherwood and her four-year Live! co-host Michael Strahan, among others, concerning Strahan’s lucrative deal to abandon the ABC-owned syndicated talk show, a moneymaker for both the network and its affiliate stations, for a fulltime gig at GMA starting in September.
Ripa, who through various associates and celebrity-whisperers has made no secret of her anger at the way the transition has been handled, has been on strike since she and longtime Live! executive producer, Michael Gelman, were abruptly informed of the network’s plans right after Tuesday’s episode, only minutes before Strahan’s move was officially announced.
Strahan, not Sherwood, was the one who told them in a tense post-show meeting that took Ripa and Gelman by surprise.
While Gelman—a frequent on-air presence on Live! over the past nearly two decades—appeared briefly on Thursday’s installment (to banter amiably with Strahan and substitute co-host Erin Andrews about his preference for whole, not skim, milk), there has been no indication of when Ripa might be back at work.
Since the network’s announcement about Strahan, she has opted out of three episodes this week, and was previously scheduled to take Monday off. The earliest she could return to Live! would be next Tuesday, and if she doesn’t show up, ABC and Sherwood will have a major PR debacle on their hands.
“Dear God,” a network executive mused to The Daily Beast about that unpleasant prospect.
The Daily Mail has reported that Ripa refuses to go on camera as long as Strahan remains on the show, and people at ABC—losing patience with what they see as her “selfish” and diva-like behavior—believe that the Mail’s report accurately reflects what Ripa’s associates have been telling journalists in recent days.
A source familiar with Ripa’s thinking, however, told The Daily Beast that while “she has issues with Michael,” she can be expected to work them out with him, and her real problem is with Sherwood and other top ABC executives who failed to consult her before they set about to potentially damage a profitable and popular franchise whose success she deeply cares about.
Meanwhile, the network spent much of Thursday pushing back on the Mail’s report—echoed by industry sources who spoke with The Daily Beast—that GMA’s Lara Spencer feels undercut and marginalized by Strahan’s impending arrival.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” a GMA spokesperson emailed The Daily Beast, while declining to make Spencer available for an interview.
Spencer is one of the show’s regular co-anchors along with main anchors Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos. “Lara couldn’t be happier to have Michael every morning on the show with her. They are friends both on camera and off camera.”
ABC News’s once-dominant morning program has suffered a decline in the all-important 25-54 viewer demographic over the past eight months against NBC’s Today show and a resulting loss of millions of dollars in advertising revenue—prompting what industry sources describe as panic at ABC headquarters in Los Angeles, and the fulltime recruitment of the affably camera-ready Strahan, who had appeared on GMA only a couple of days a week for the past two years.
While Ripa and Gelman were kept in the dark, and the plans for Strahan were known only to a tiny circle at the network—out of a concern for premature leaks—multiple sources told The Daily Beast that GMA star Robin Roberts was informed early on concerning the negotiations, and was enthusiastic about bringing the former New York Giants defensive end to the broadcast in hopes of shoring up ratings in the demo, and helping her shoulder some of the pressure.
If only Ripa had been let in on the secret, said a source familiar with her thinking, she would not have begrudged Strahan his career ambitions and tried to smooth the way—not only for her co-host but for the stability of a show she has carried successfully since she replaced Kathie Lee Gifford opposite Regis Philbin in 2001.
Meanwhile, before hosting Live! with Dancing With The Stars emcee Andrews, Strahan visited the set of GMA to celebrate his career move with the folks he called “my second family.”
“We have some good news—our friend Michael Strahan is joining us fulltime,” Roberts declared, reaching out to pat him on the arm.
“Are you ready?” Stephanopoulos asked him, amid a barrage of happy talk and hysterical laughter.
“I need some tips on how to wake up early every day,” Strahan answered, and launched into an apparent attempt to publicly smooth things over with Ripa. “I’m gonna miss everybody at Live!, sitting next to Kelly every day and having a lot of fun on that show the last four years. I’m very thankful to her, because I learned so much from her and Michael Gelman. They showed me the ropes. It was so new to me, all of this, and if it weren’t for her, and if it weren’t for Michael Gelman and the staff there that really boosted me up and made me look a lot better than I really am, I never would have had the chance of being here. But I’m grateful that I’m here, and we’re on the same network…”
Spencer, meanwhile, chimed in: “The tip about no sleeping? Just get over it. You’re going to be tired… Just own it and love it. It’s part of life.”
Newsreader Amy Robach added: “Michael, I want to tell you, you put a smile on all of our faces the second you walk in—most of all because we’re waiting for our morning kiss. Especially George. I know he loves his.”
Which prompted high-pitched whoops along with the laughter, just before Robach abruptly segued to a story about “frightening freeway shootings.”
A clear benefit of Ripa’s on-camera absence, of course, is that she hasn’t had to engage in such syrupy exchanges that viewers might perceive as perilously inauthentic.
Still, the only person who seemed completely and genuinely happy about Thursday’s developments was Malcolm Gladwell, apparently one of Ripa’s favorite authors—at least to the extent that she can weaponize one of his book titles.
“Anytime someone other than my mother likes my books,” Gladwell told The Daily Beast, “I’m delighted.”