“Our long national nightmare is over!” Kelly Ripa declared.
Today was her first day back on Live! With Kelly and Michael since last week’s ABC management-created debacle in which she was practically the last person to know that her cohost of the past four years is leaving the syndicated daytime show for allegedly greener pastures.
“I’m going to be completely honest. I’m fairly certain there are trained professional snipers with tranquilizer darts, in case I drift too far off message,” Ripa added, in tart reference to what had to be ABC President Ben Sherwood’s understandable apprehension about what she might say concerning her shabby treatment in recent days after she’s carried the popular and profitable program for the past 15 years.
Sherwood perhaps had reason to be worried. In what will probably be taken as a shot across the bow, Ripa conspicuously didn’t mention him but instead made a none-too-veiled reference to Bob Iger, Sherwood’s boss as the chairman and chief executive of ABC’s corporate parent, The Walt Disney Company.
“Apologies have been made,” Ripa confided to her millions of viewers, “and the best thing to come out of this, you guys, is that our parent company has assured me that Live! is a priority.”
The studio audience greeted her with wild cheers and a standing ovation as she swaggered on stage, looking razor-sharp and fierce in fire-engine-red trousers and top, on the arm of Michael Strahan, whose secret career plans had started all the trouble.
The former New York Giants defensive end joined in the applause and kissed her hand, a supplicant in need of forgiveness.
Instead of sitting down at the Live! table, Ripa positioned herself at a spot a dozen feet away from her errant co-host, at a regal remove—the camera on her, and only on her.
In contrast to frequent shots of the cheering studio audience, there were no cutaways to Strahan when Ripa addressed him directly and decided to be gracious. “I am thrilled for Michael. I am thrilled for you. This is as a tremendous opportunity. And I couldn’t be—and we couldn’t be—prouder of you, and everything we’ve accomplished together,” she insisted.
“I first want to honestly, sincerely thank you for welcoming me back to the show,” Ripa told her fans. “The show of support through this bizarre time has been really overwhelming.
“I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts,” Ripa continued. “After 26 years with this company, I earned the right. And let’s be honest. I know half of you called in sick to be here—so we get each other.”
Genuinely riveting television—not reality-show staged but compellingly real—this was a fittingly dramatic conclusion to last week’s behind-the-scenes melodrama.
The 45-year-old Ripa, who at times seemed near tears during what will likely be remembered as her Gettysburg Address, had essentially gone on strike. She had missed four episodes of Live! (the last one, Monday, designated by ABC a previously scheduled day off) in order to protest and figure out her response to Sherwood’s bungled decision to keep her and longtime executive producer Michael Gelman in the dark about Strahan’s planned departure in September for a fulltime anchor job on the network’s ratings-challenged Good Morning America along with a gig hosting a revival of the game show $100,000 Pyramid.
“In that time, I gained some perspective,” Ripa said. “I always speak from the heart. I didn’t want to come out here and just like say something I might regret. So what transpired, though, over the course of a few days has been extraordinary, in the sense that it started a much greater conversation about communications and consideration, and most importantly, respect in the workplace,” she added—a none-too-veiled reference to the near-unanimous commentary (despite some sour notes from network stooges, anonymously accusing her of “selfishness”) slamming ABC’s management and backing Ripa to the hilt.
“I don’t consider this just a workplace,” Ripa emotionally went on. “This is my second home. This is a place I’ve devoted myself to—not just because of you, our loyal viewers, but because of all of the producers who work on this show. We have an incredible team. We are incredibly devoted to one another. We are family.”
Joking that Disney’s commitment to Live! didn’t necessarily extend to Christmas bonuses for the staff, Ripa said it mainly is focused on “you, the viewers, who have watched us every day for 30 years”—a franchise that began when Regis Philbin teamed up with Kathie Lee Gifford on the Los Angeles ABC station and soon took it national.
“But back to the show. This is entertainment. It’s supposed to be entertaining. So let’s get back to what we do best and start the show.”
The chit-chat with guests—Bellamy Young and Jamie Alexander—progressed innocuously enough. One wonders if tomorrow’s guest, the gleeful controversy magnet Ricky Gervais, will avoid any lurking elephants in the room.
Viewers will be watching how Ripa and Strahan settle back into co-hosting duties with so much bitching and bad blood out in the public realm—on the morning of Ripa’s return, a story appeared, claiming Strahan felt “bullied” by her. And according to People magazine and CNN's Brian Stelter, Strahan is ditching the show next month, much earlier than the previously announced September departure date.
On this first, nervy morning back, Ripa and Strahan settled into their typical back and forth about Snapchat and bedbugs, her 20th wedding anniversary weekend, and the dress she bought on sale at Barney’s when she was lowly soap actress—awkward at first, and then increasingly comfortable, with Strahan wisely keeping a respectful distance.
At the end of this speech, Ripa couldn’t resist adding: “Oh. Wait. Incidentally. I just want to say one thing. My dad, who was a bus driver for 30 years, thinks we’re all crazy.”
In Ripa’s case, crazy like a fox.