Just call her Kelly Ripshit.
The morning after being blindsided by her longtime co-host Michael Strahan on the hit syndicated ABC morning show, Live! with Kelly and Michael, Kelly Ripa was a no-show on Wednesday’s episode.
Her unexplained absence, on a day when Strahan delivered to the studio and viewing audience a surprisingly detached commentary on his plans to leave the show for the network’s uneasy lead-in Good Morning America, gave credence to reports that Ripa is angry that Strahan kept her in the dark about his intentions to abandon the wildly successful Live franchise.
The Daily Mail reported that ABC sources had indicated that Ripa was “refusing to turn up to work,” and would not be return to her hosting duties until Strahan left for Good Morning America.
A network source, while not addressing whether Ripa will return for Thursday’s show, told The Daily Beast that she will be off on Friday when Live! is dark, and was previously scheduled to be off next Monday for vacation. Late Wednesday, CNN reported that Ripa would not be present for Thursday's show. A Disney spokesperson told The Daily Beast Erin Andrews would guest co-host with Strahan on Thursday and Friday (which is a pre-recorded show). On Monday’s show, Strahan will be joined by Pretty Little Liars star Shay Mitchell. Mystery surrounds whether Tuesday will see Ripa and Strahan reunited on screen.
“Kelly’s off today,” Strahan announced flatly on Wednesday after shimmying onto the stage with former Saturday Night Live performer Ana Gasteyer, Ripa’s substitute host.
“I’ve been in the news lately,” the gap-toothed former football star added. “I am leaving this show.” As the studio audience groaned, he murmured, “I know.”
The 44-year-old Strahan—who joined Live four years ago after Regis Philbin announced his retirement, also without warning Ripa—continued: “I’m going to go over to GMA fulltime, which is going to happen in September. It is the same channel.”
Concerning the headlines after ABC announced the shakeup, Strahan noted: “I was reading some stuff sounding like I died…”
Later in the program, in a segment in which Gasteyer and Strahan subjected themselves to an acupuncture treatment, the departing co-host sat on the set with two red pins sticking out of the right side of his neck—conjuring an image, at least in some minds, of what Ripa might be doing with a Michael Strahan doll. Then, right at the end of the show—and who knows if prompted to by bosses—Strahan finally mentioned Ripa by name.
“I really want to thank of course Kelly Ripa because Kelly welcomed me here and I’ve learned so much from her,” he said. “She’s been an amazing influence on me and it has truly changed my life to be here with her. I know that the show will continue to be strong and great because of Kelly and Michael Gelman and the staff here. Everybody is so talented and this show has not been around for over 30 years by mistake… Kelly, I thank you and I love you and everyone else here at Live.”
According to a source familiar with Tuesday’s intrigue, Gasteyer was recruited late Tuesday night, at the last minute, after Ripa informed executive producer Michael Gelman that she had no intention of reporting for work today.
Gelman—usually sighted off-camera, parrying with the co-hosts—was present for Wednesday’s program. But there were no cutaways to him, as might be expected, during Strahan’s announcement.
Several television industry observers, meanwhile, expressed surprise that Strahan would agree to leave his comfortably booming berth on Live! for the relative uncertainty of GMA.
“I don’t understand Strahan’s side of it,” a former ABC executive told The Daily Beast. “It doesn’t really work to make this change. What if the ratings on GMA don’t improve? He gets one good paycheck but why do you walk away from a really successful morning talk show?”
This network veteran added that the ABC-owned stations and affiliates are unlikely to be happy with the switch, at least initially.
“For the stations, it’s taking a risk with a great talent on a show, and potentially damaging something that makes the stations money,” said the former ABC exec. “They had a guaranteed hit on their hands that go for another 10 years.”
The counter argument—provided by several ABC sources—it that Ripa “is the heart and soul of the show,” and can be reasonably expected to thrive with a new co-host. Ripa has carried Live! since she replaced Kathie Gifford in 2001, and maintained its leading position after Philbin’s departure, and when Strahan arrived in September 2012.
The ABC stations have no cause for worry, these network sources claimed.
Meanwhile, one highly-placed network source said, “Nobody can force Michael Strahan to do something he doesn’t want to do…He doesn’t have to get up at 4 in the morning unless he wants to.”
Strahan’s publicist declined to comment, and representatives of Live and Ripa didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.(“Kelly had the day off,” a spokesperson for the show later emailed, accentuating the obvious.)
According to published reports, Strahan had been in secret talks with ABC management for several weeks about the notion of appearing daily on GMA, where he already is part of the mix two days a week, in an effort to shore up that program’s declining numbers against NBC’s Today show in the all-important advertising demographic of viewers aged 25-54.
An ABC News veteran, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 12 percent fall-off at GMA—which has been dominant until relatively recently—could mean the loss of tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue to the network. GMA, which has remained No. 1 in total viewers, has lost more than 20 percent in the demo over the past two years, while Today’s numbers have also declined, although by substantially less, and the NBC show has beat its rival for more than 30 straight weeks in the ad-friendly demo.
Countering observations that this move is essentially a “Hail Mary” play by ABC President Ben Sherwood in a desperate attempt to fix a nagging and costly problem—the sagging ad revenue at GMA—a current ABC source said that GMA’s producers have long made it clear to Strahan that they want more of him on the air; on the days when he does appear on GMA, he must leave by 8 a.m. in order to prepared for Live!
While Strahan is said to be very well liked by the GMA staff and talent—and co-hosts Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos, and news reader Amy Robach posted tweets warmly welcoming him as a fulltime colleague after Tuesday’s announcement—they are reportedly chafing at the notion that Strahan is being publicly positioned as GMA’s savior.
Meanwhile, a Strahan associate, who spoke on condition of not being named, pointed out that he met with Ripa and Gelman privately ahead of the formal announcement but was not obligated to inform them personally of his plans, which is the role of his bosses, Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Bob Iger and Sherwood, who reportedly engineered the transition.