Embattled television and radio personality Ryan Seacrest, who has been grappling for the past three months with his former stylist’s allegations of sexual misconduct, shed tears of gratitude Thursday morning after Kelly Ripa risked the wrath of the #MeToo movement to offer a full-throated statement of support on their hit ABC morning show Live with Kelly and Ryan.
“He cried—he’s an emotional guy,” a member of Team Seacrest told The Daily Beast, describing his private backstage reaction after Ripa turned to him and pointedly declared on the air, “I just want you to know that you are a privilege to work with, and I adore you.”
The 47-year-old Ripa—who has cohosted the Live franchise for the past 17 years opposite Regis Philbin, Michael Strahan and, since September, Seacrest—was unavailable for an interview.
But a friend who spoke to Ripa on Thursday told The Daily Beast: “She thought about it, and she is someone who forms her opinions based on her life experiences, and her experience with individuals. And in this case, Ryan has been one of the most trustworthy, conscientious and best people she has ever worked with. And she feels quite comfortable and quite confident being supportive.”
Ripa’s endorsement could not have come at a more welcome moment for the 43-year-old Seacrest, who is scheduled to helm the E! channel’s red carpet coverage Sunday at the Academy Awards amid expressions of discomfort and, in some cases indignation, from celebrity publicists and movie stars, some of whom are expected to avoid doing on-camera interviews with him.
Jennifer Lawrence, for one, told Howard Stern that she was unsure of how she’ll react if she encounters Seacrest on the red carpet Sunday. “I can’t imagine him being sexual,” she said. “He has not been to trial for anything. I am not a judge. I am not a jury, you know … that is where this stuff gets tricky.”
Meanwhile, ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who will emcee the Oscars show, said he’d gladly submit to an interview by Seacrest. “Listen, you know, we should at the very least afford people the opportunity for truth, what the facts of the story are before hanging them out to dry,” he told Variety.
Concerning the potentially awkward situation, a spokesperson for E! emailed The Daily Beast: “It’s business as usual for Sunday. Ryan will be on the carpet.”
According to Team Seacrest, Ripa among the first people he called after the allegations surfaced in November—explaining that they were false—and she was “pissed” that he was undergoing such a nightmarish situation.
Seacrest’s highpowered Hollywood attorneys, Andrew Bauman and Patty Glaser, alerted the E! channel soon after he received an accusatory letter outlining the allegations, and E! hired an outside attorney to interview more than two dozen witnesses, including Seacrest and his accuser—former E! channel stylist Suzie Hardy—in a two-month-long investigation.
Seacrest submitted to two interviews, and Hardy submitted to three, according to people familiar with the investigation.
A month ago, the NBC Universal-owned entertainment channel announced that there was “insufficient evidence to substantiate allegations against Seacrest.”
That, however, didn’t end the matter as Seacrest published a Feb. 5 guest column about his experience in the Hollywood Reporter—“What Happened After I Was Wrongly Accused of Harassment,” said the headline—and Hardy and her Los Angeles attorney, Howard King, continued to make their case, culminating in a story published on Monday by Variety detailing years of Seacrest’s alleged sexual abuse and harassment during her E! employment from 2007 to 2013.
E!’s response to the Variety story argued that “Any claims that question the legitimacy of this investigation are completely baseless.”
Seacrest himself complained in a statement: “Much to my dismay, Variety didn’t speak with me or bother to speak with other credible witnesses or even ask for any of the evidence that was obtained during the investigation when offered, all of which clearly challenged the veracity of the claims made against me.”
Variety pushed back against that statement, saying they had sought an interview with Seacrest which had been denied, and that it had spoken to his reps in preparation for its story.
Meanwhile, dozens of Seacrest’s friends and employees—and even his girlfriend, model Shayna Taylor—rallied to his side; notably, a story Wednesday on People magazine’s website featured testimonials female employees and colleagues.
“As I have said to everyone for the last twenty years and will continue for the next twenty... there is no one in this business or any business, for that matter, better to work for than you,” wrote Amy Sugarman in an email to Seacrest, provided to The Daily Beast. “You treat everyone equally and with respect,” added Sugarman, a talent producer on Seacrest’s radio show.
Variety, however, continues to maintain that Hardy’s sensational accusations are credible, including that Seacrest allegedly engaged in “grinding his erect penis against her while clad only in his underwear, groping her vagina, and at one point slapping her buttock so hard that it left a large welt still visible hours later.”
In his statement, Seacrest argued that he was the victim of a shakedown: “This person who has accused me of horrible things offered, on multiple occasions, to withdraw her claims if I paid her millions of dollars. I refused. I have worked extremely hard to achieve my success and I don’t take my opportunities for granted. I don’t want to accuse anyone of not telling the truth but in this case, I have no choice but to again deny the claims against me, remind people that I was recused of any wrongdoing, and put the matter to rest.”
Because the alleged misconduct occurred more than three years before Hardy’s complaint—outside of the bounds of California’s statute of limitations—she would not have been able to file a lawsuit, and her only leverage would have been the threat of negative publicity, say members of Team Seacrest.
Hardy’s attorney, Howard King, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
In siding so completely with Seacrest in his public relations battle with Hardy—which in recent days featured reports on both NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America, both shows owned by media companies with stake in Seacrest’s success—Ripa was not only helping him at E! but also protecting her own powerful brand as a relatable and staunch ally of Live!’s largely female viewers.
After all, Kelly Ripa would hardly wish to be seen day after day alongside a notorious workplace sexual harasser—especially because she, too, had experienced male misbehavior when she was starting out in show business more than three decades ago, said her friend.
“I am speaking on behalf of all us here,” Ripa told her grateful cohost on camera. “I know what an easy, professional, great person you are and I feel very, very lucky to work with you each and every day. We all do.”
—with additional reporting by Maxwell Tani