For the first 50 minutes of Live! with Kelly and Michael, it seemed like Michael Strahan’s final day on the show might conclude as a good-riddance, not-a-wet-eye-in-the-house, don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-ass-on-the-way-out affair.
Strahan’s valedictory appearance, dubbed “Friday Flashback Farewell,” was oddly business as usual, with interviews featuring actor Matt Bomer, hawking his role in the upcoming movie The Nice Guys, and Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, flogging his cameo in the latest Teenage Ninja Turtles flick.
At the end, of course, there came an appropriately bracing mood-change, as Kelly Ripa did her best to deliver an earnest “I’m so proud of you” speech to Strahan and showered him with jokey gifts—the bronzed size-16 stiletto heels he once wore for a Haloween segment; and an antic photo of the two of them wearing short shorts and leaning against a vintage Cadillac.
The gap-toothed former Giants defensive end responded with warm remarks of his own (though, oddly, they weren’t so much a tribute to his co-hosting mentor as a paean to the viewing audience who “opened up your hearts to me”), and then professed his love for Ripa, kissing her hand before the divorcing duo hugged it out.
Ripa—who has made no secret of her displeasure in the past three weeks about being blindsided by ABC execs and Strahan concerning her cohost’s career plans—opened with a couple of snarky observations.
“Guys—don’t take this a bad sign—it’s Friday the 13th,” she announced after boogieing onto the set with her errant cohost, who after the show on April 19, abruptly informed Ripa and Live!’s longtime executive producer, Michael Gelman, that he was leaving forever after four short years to appear full-time on the network’s ratings-challenged lead-in, Good Morning America.
“I am happy I am not six feet under,” Strahan answered Ripa’s quip with what looked like forced bonhomie. “I am six-feet-five above the ground.” He added: “It’s bittersweet. I didn’t anticipate being here…I’m not dying!”
“It’s your final day on the show, and we all came today to celebrate you,” Ripa announced, having awkwardly thrown an arm around his neck with her hand flopping on his chest area and flashing angry-red fingernails.
“We want to remind the audience,” she added, indicating one of the “Kelly and Michael” coffee mugs on the table in front of them, “that there is a run on discounted merchandise.”
“We can double the price,” Gelman bantered off-camera.
All this jocular towel-snapping was occurring in the context of an epic behind-the-scenes melodrama and a rising tide of media criticism, some of it tinged with a feminist indignation, about another instance of network executives botching the important task of managing and supporting on-air talent, especially when that talent happens to be a woman.
Swirling around the PR debacle were rumors that maybe Ripa wanted in due course to change venues for Los Angeles—a notion reportedly creating high anxiety among Live!’s New York-based staff.
Much of the intrigue was stoked by a clearly offended Ripa, who initially went on strike for several episodes after Strahan dropped his bomb in a private meeting.
As the paparazzi door-stepped her Manhattan townhouse, Ripa carried Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath from her front door to her waiting SUV.
On Thursday, the eve of Strahan’s supposedly fond farewell, Ripa continued her barely subliminal semaphores on her front porch, wearing a paparazzi-ready varsity jacket blazoned with the word “Freedom.”
And however dutiful were Ripa’s and Strahan’s attempts to impersonate an affectionate and fun-loving television couple, a witness who saw them recently, up close and personal on the Live! set, confided to The Daily Beast: “I don’t think the hosts like each other very much.”
By the way, Strahan might tower over his soon-to-be ex TV wife and outweigh her by more than 150 pounds, but Ripa was large and in charge as the two of them soldiered their way through their somewhat stilted opening “host chat” segment.
They yakked about a too-tall toilet that left Ripa’s feet dangling over the bathroom tiles, the outsized demensions of Shaquille O’Neal’s bed, Strahan’s drop-by at a Dujour magazine party, Ripa’s all-woman dinner party (oh, to be a fly on the wall at that), her chance encounter at a bar with Yankees celeb Alex Rodriguez, and a scattering of additional chatter that Donald Trump might have branded “low-energy.” (Ripa seemed a great deal more enthusiastic and bright-eyed—actually jumping up and down—in the promo announcing Monday’s guest co-host, Jimmy Kimmel.)
The proceedings were punctuated by comic clips of Strahan and Ripa cutting up for the past four years, but the feeling emanating from the screen was surprisingly commonplace. Really? Is that all there is?
It was left to first guest Bomer to inaugurate the displays of emotion: “I gotta get a little sappy to start this off and thank Michael for helping the great unrequited love of my life, Kelly Ripa, host this show so well,” he said.
“Awwwwww,” Ripa responded.
Knicks star Anthony, meanwhile, hardly seemed to recognize the faux gravity of the occasion, as he chatted about basketball, commerce, and the promising athletic abilities of his young son.
Finally, in the penultimate segment, came the moment of truthiness, as Ripa introduced a “This is your life” video. It featured her and Strahan strutting around in a series of ridiculous costumes and wigs including Strahan’s impersonation of Serena Williams, them both pretending to be sexually attracted to each other, getting filthy and wet on an obstacle course, bantering with President Obama at the White House, Ripa climbing on Strahan’s back, and Strahan unsuccessfully trying to replicate various foreign accents among other instances of prepared comedy laced with laughter from the studio audience.
“A lot has happened,” Strahan opined.
After the commercials, Ripa presented him with various gifts, including what she described as “a photo book of memories of all of us together for you to take home, so you know that no matter where you go, you’re here with us, always.”
Looking searchingly into the dearly departed’s eyes, Ripa continued: “We did everything together…I just wanna say, on behalf of myself and all of us, we couldn’t be prouder of you. You have given us so much joy in the mornings—from your smile, to your sense of humor, to your horrible French accent…I look forward to watching you every morning and seeing what else you achieve.”
As they toasted each other with glasses of champagne—“Gelman got the good stuff,” Ripa noted—Strahan responded: “I just wanna say thank you to everybody…I didn’t know what to expect coming from sports to daytime television. You guys opened up your hearts to me and opened up your homes to me and it’s been so overwhelming the response that we’ve had over the last four years.”
He called the live audience “the third co-host of the show,” adding, “The energy that they bring really make this show work. It’s not about myself.” And turning to Ripa, he added: “It’s not about you. It’s about everybody here.”
“I love you, baby,” he insisted, before encircling her in his brawny arms.