Former soap opera star Kelly Ripa and former football star Michael Strahan have been drinking out of matching coffee mugs every morning for four years on ABC’s “Live with Kelly and Michael.” But the break-up is here, and it is ugly.
This is the vehicle formerly known as “Live With Regis and Kathie Lee” and then “Live with Regis and Kelly.”
As the name suggests, the chemistry between the show’s two stars is pretty important, without which it would just be “Live.” Or, maybe “Live with Occasional Tosses to Gelman,” the show’s ever-present and picked-upon producer.
In an attempt to bolster ratings at “Good Morning America,” ABC moved Strahan to a permanent anchor seat there after two years of part-time work. The decision was reportedly made without telling Ripa until minutes before it became public. The preternaturally peppy Ripa has not taken kindly to this perceived slight from her co-host and management, calling in sick to an episode of the show this week. She will not return to the host seat until Tuesday, according to reports. She canceled a planned anniversary getaway with her husband, Mark Consuelos, whom you may know from his appearances on “All My Children” or in Electrolux ads as Kelly Ripa’s hot husband, to fight the media battle in New York.
Strahan, meanwhile, professed his love for Kelly in her absence as a guest co-host watched on awkwardly. The whole thing is dispiriting, even though I don’t even watch “Live With Kelly and Michael” religiously.
They’re basically the two most likable people alive.
I cover politics. I have to watch the interactions and public preening every day of those who barely meet the bar of “likable enough.” Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan, on the other hand, are supernovas of lovability.
This is like the opposite of the Iraq/Iran War. Can they both win? Their success is predicated on seeming constantly lovely to be around and happy to be around each other. It’s somewhat ironic that the TV format most reliant on the appearance of fluffy sweetness is so high-stakes for networks that it results in some of the medium’s most bare-knuckle brawls for supremacy and undisguised spurnings. That brings me to my next thought.
Did we learn nothing from Ann Curry?
Veteran news anchor Ann Curry was groomed for more than a decade on NBC’s “Today” show before taking over the co-anchor chair from Meredith Viera in 2012. She held the seat opposite Matt Lauer for just a year before being very publicly ousted amid rumors Lauer simply didn’t like her, that she was a newswoman more suited for a news slot, and may have been too reserved for gushy morning show duties.
As Lauer said after the very public break-up: “I don’t think the show and the network handled the transition well…You don’t have to be Einstein to know that. It clearly did not help us. We were seen as a family, and we didn’t handle a family matter well.”
Lauer told tales of getting yelled at on the street for his perceived mistreatment of Curry, as her tearful four-minute goodbye to viewers secured a long-remembered position as the wronged party.
It was all so calamitous as to tank Lauer’s popularity and give media reporter and CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter an entire juicy book on the subject. That brings us to my next concern.
Some of this can probably be explained by a corporate separation between “Good Morning America,” which is part of ABC’s news division, and “Live,” which is produced by ABC’s New York affiliate and distributed by ABC, but still.
Can their brands survive this?
As the most likable people on earth, it is incumbent upon Kelly and Michael to be likable, like, all the time. In the wake of this announcement, Strahan has had to awkwardly address the flare-up and give his co-host props in her absence.
Ripa is being accused of a “diva act,” and going “crazy” over Strahan’s departure. Whether or not these characterizations are fair, which we’ll get to in a moment, the dust-up does lay bare the big-stakes game she’s playing even while she seems like your taut, toned, and tanned bestie just sippin’ a latte and dishing about celebs. Her very valuable relatability is at stake.
Strahan has already blown off a charity event he was supposed to host, leaving him in the merciless rhetorical crosshairs of the comics and celebrities who did show up.
Ripa has a right to be angry.
If indeed she was told of a change in the line-up of the show she helms in the middle of a week and shortly before the news went public, she is right to be angry. The show format is utterly dependent on the chemistry between Ripa and her co-host, so much so that it took 10 months of try-outs to put Strahan in the slot four years ago.
Ripa’s looking down the barrel of months of carrying the show opposite a parade of lovely but inexperienced co-hosts whom she’ll have to guide. Her job just got a lot harder — though, let’s stipulate she’s no lineman — and her success thrown to chance, with the added public jab of being kept in the dark about her own show.
In 2011, Ripa was similarly blindsided, told 20 minutes before air that co-host Regis Philbin was leaving the show. Philbin has chimed in this week with encouragement for both hosts and sympathy for Ripa that may reflect he’s learned more than anyone in morning TV from these shuffles: “They should have told her in the beginning.”
Ripa has now been left in the dark two times. The first time she had second billing behind Regis, and she probably assumed top billing for a show she has kept alive would have protected her from being caught off-guard again. That seems like a reasonable assumption. Ripa is doing a bit of messaging via paparazzi in this bizarre modern media world, stepping out in New York City with Malcom Gladwell’s book: “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”
Strahan bears blame.
As much as it pains me to look upon that gap-toothed Adonis with anything but pure affection, he should have anticipated this emotional fall-out and made sure Ripa was informed, even if the powers that be said not to tell her. Ripa has been referred to in the press as “crazy” and in “meltdown,” whereas Strahan has received nothing near the equivalent swipes even though he disrupted the arrangement in what turned out to be a problematic way.
Ensemble shows and co-host gigs are like families, audiences read them as families, and abrupt break-ups are disquieting. Many in the Kelly and Michael audience surely feel like they’ve been sat on the couch by a much cooler, richer, more attractive version of their parents to tell them they’re getting a divorce.
IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU LOVE ME VERY MUCH AND IT’S NOT MY FAULT. I WANT YOU TOGETHER.
Some have suggested Strahan’s history in sports made him hardened to trades and changes of allegiance. But he spent his entire career with the Giants, never really experiencing the journeyman aspect of some athletes’ careers.
Pull it together, Dick Clarks.
There are only so many broadly palatable and actually talented hosts per generation. Ripa and Strahan are two of this generation’s. Along with Jimmy Fallon, Ryan Seacrest, Anderson Cooper, and some combination of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jimmy Kimmel, and LL Cool J, they’ll be hosting every major TV event from now until my retirement. We’re lucky we have more than just one, but our Dick Clarks need to pull it together if we’re going to be watching them for the next 25 years. I don’t wish to see the the depth chart take a hit because their popularity does over this fight.
Put the Rock in that chair.
Yeah, he’s probably too big for it, literally and figuratively, but I’d tune in.