ABOVE PHOTO: Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan (Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com)
By David Bauder
NEW YORK — Kelly Ripa returned to her daytime talk show Tuesday after time off to “gather (her) thoughts” in response to learning her co-host Michael Strahan is leaving, saying the incident had started a conversation about workplace respect.
She also told the audience that her bosses had apologized to her, and she’d received assurances that the “Live with Kelly and Michael” show was important to parent Walt Disney Co.
But only hours after the show’s telecast, Ripa’s remarks were upstaged by an updated announcement that Strahan will leave in May for full-time duties on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” not in September, as previously indicated.
Strahan’s last day on “Live” will now be May 13, “which not only gives the show the chance to have a nice send-off for him during the May (ratings) book, but to also immediately begin the on-air search for a new co-host,” said a publicist for the show.
Ripa, Strahan, and producers of “Live” and “GMA” were consulted in reaching the decision on Strahan’s departure date, the publicist said.
The former soap opera actress has been co-host of “Live” since 2001, first with Regis Philbin and then with Strahan.
In between the two men’s tenures, Ripa bridged a nine-month gap during which she sat alongside some 60 substitute and tryout co-hosts.
Prior to her return, Ripa had reportedly been upset that she learned only a few minutes before the public last Tuesday that Strahan, her co-host since 2012, was exiting for “GMA.” He works part-time on the morning news show now and executives there are looking for a way to turn around fading ratings.
According to the new plan, Strahan will be making more frequent appearances on “GMA” before becoming a full-timer in September.
Ripa skipped Wednesday and Thursday’s show, and said she had a scheduled vacation Friday and Monday.
“I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts,” she said after returning to a standing ovation from Tuesday’s studio audience. “After 26 years with this company, I’ve earned that right.”
She said the time helped her gain some perspective and that “apologies have been made.” She didn’t say who apologized and ABC officials haven’t publicly admitted to blowing the transition.
“What happened was extraordinary,” she said. “It started a much greater conversation about communication and consideration and, most importantly, respect in the workplace. I don’t consider this a workplace. This is my second home.”
Besides the lack of communication that Ripa took issue with, the shifting of Strahan to take advantage of his popularity on “Good Morning America” sent an unmistakable message about which show was more important to ABC’s bottom line.
Yet the network surely didn’t anticipate the drama would play out in the media or how it would raise questions about when – or if – Ripa would return. ABC did not comment Tuesday on Ripa’s statements.
She walked hand-in-hand with Strahan onto the stage of her show Tuesday as it began, and Strahan swiftly let his co-host stand alone to talk about the incident.
“I am fairly certain that there are trained professional snipers with tranquilizer darts in case I drift too far off message,” said Ripa, who appeared emotionally taken aback by the audience response.
Strahan, when she was done, said he was happy Ripa was back.
“If there’s one thing I know about you, you love the show, you love the staff, you love your fans and I love you,” Strahan said. “You’re the queen of morning television.”