The friendly-bordering-on-flirtatious banter between Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan is the fuel that fires their daytime TV show, Live! With Kelly and Michael—which is why it’s so surprising to see Page Six using words like “meltdown” and “betrayal” to describe what’s going on right now between the pair behind the scenes. On Tuesday, TMZ reported that Ripa was furious that her co-host was leaving the show for a spot on Good Morning America. She reportedly called in sick for the rest of the week in protest, leaving Strahan to vamp alongside a succession of fill-in co-hosts, including Ana Gasteyer and Erin Andrews. What exactly is going on here, and whose side should you be on? Read on for our best attempt to explain.
According to TMZ, Disney CEO Bob Iger engineered the plan to bump Strahan up to ABC’s more prominent morning show, Good Morning America. Ripa and longtime producer Michael Gelman weren’t told until Tuesday morning, leaving them feeling “blindsided.” “You work on a show for 15 years and all of a sudden you’re not even told about this seismic change?” one Ripa-sympathetic insider told Page Six, which also reported that Ripa was supposed to get more advance warning, but the story got out early and ruined that plan. Though there could theoretically be some other explanation for Ripa’s absence, her nonattendance this week seems to have been an attempt to make the network sweat.
The show has a history of host changes. Live! premiered in national syndication in 1988 as Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, hosted by Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford. Gifford left the show in 2000 and the next year was replaced by Kelly Ripa, then best known for her acting on All My Children. Philbin himself left the show in 2011, and after a monthslong search, former football player Michael Strahan was named the new co-host in 2012. There he has stayed for the past four years. (If you, like me, have a soft spot for the Reege and didn’t follow Strahan during his football days, you’ve never quite recovered from the former’s departure.)
“That Ripa and Strahan would seem to be icing each other out to such an extreme degree, Strahan largely silent about his cohost’s discontent and Ripa just silent, is riveting,” Time wrote of the drama. Tiny, formidably fit Ripa has long been the definition of peppy, not just on her own show but in game, self-deprecating guest spots on shows like Broad City and Watch What Happens Live, where she joined Andy Cohen to dish about their friendship with Anderson Cooper. Someone who refuses to show up to work because she didn’t get enough notice about someone else’s job change certainly counters that America’s Sweetheart image. Strahan’s GMA gig doesn’t start until September—how are we going to watch Ripa hold hands, seat-dance, and share personal anecdotes with him until then when we know that she’s fuming at him off camera? Maybe we’ll have to acknowledge all of the work that goes into creating that cheery persona in the first place. If nothing else, the Live! drama certainly proves that wherever you work, a man in a higher-up position can usually come in and fiddle with the formula.