David M. Russell//Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and TV Distribution
Kelly Ripa‘s 2016 started off just like the previous three years had.
Enjoy the rest of winter vacation and then head back to work with Michael Strahan on Live! With Kelly and Michael.
And so the first few months of the year went along, with the infectiously upbeat duo bantering over their giant mugs, interviewing guests, giving away trips and otherwise looking as cozy as ever.
So weren’t we surprised when on April 19 Strahan announced he was leaving Live! to join ABC’s Good Morning America full-time! Then as it turned out, we weren’t the only ones…
The revelation that the conversation Strahan he had with whichever executives he consulted at Disney-ABC Domestic Television about his decision to move on did not include Ripa—who had been hosting Live! for 15 years by then, five of them as the name before the “and”—was one of the most shocking turn of events in the TV world at the time.
And now that 2016 is almost over and so much has happened since to render that sort of turmoil relatively moot…it remains one of the most shocking things to have happened.
Workplace slights, especially when it comes to the at-times volatile world of daytime talk shows, are probably pretty common. But when you remember that Regis Philbin reportedly did pretty much the same thing when he left Live! in 2011 after 10 years of working with Kelly, contract obligations aside, the show is lucky Ripa ever came back.
Because if Kelly Ripa, one of the highest-paid TV personalities and someone you’d think would call a lot of shots at Live! (particularly in the post-Regis era), isn’t in on the big decisions from the beginning…how much loyalty do you have to exhibit before you’re rewarded with the respect you deserve?
Much was written this year about how Ripa conducted herself in the weeks following Strahan’s exit announcement and the behind-the-scenes discord that followed—and the camp that thought she needed to teach those who had dissed her a lesson were loud and proud.
There was, of course, the other camp who thought Ripa seemed to unprofessionally dwell on the subject. But seven months later, the fact that Ripa didn’t pretend on the air to feel better than she really did about what happened and insisted upon speaking her truth (surprising most of us who thought, based on historical precedent, that the whole debacle would be dismissed in the course of a joke or two) remains an inspiration as we head into 2017.
To be honest, not counting what Ripa said expressly about the incident upon her return to the show after a week off—and what she said needed to be said—we wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss. Maybe there was some extra snark and a few jokes (like about Strahan’s experience with divorce) that perhaps she wouldn’t have made been if it was business as usual, but otherwise their repartee didn’t sound all that different.
David M. Russell, Disney/ABC Home Entertainment and TV Distribution
They walked out every morning holding hands, as always. They smiled through every show until Strahan signed off on May 13 with a big hug and kiss for his co-host. There were both consummate pros.
Yet for those last couple of weeks, it wasn’t business as usual.
Kelly Ripa got her apology from the execs, but she had to keep going to work every day, put on a happy face and make America feel good, all while knowing full well that 15 years spent on the No. 1-rated morning show in all major markets had earned her a lot of money, but it hadn’t earned her common courtesy. Or the ear of her co-host, apparently.
Judging by the shock of those close to Ripa, too, it at least sounded as if she really did get along well with Strahan (despite rumors to the contrary), making what happened all the weirder. They even finally won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show, as well as collected their second straight win for Outstanding Talk Show Hosts, while all this was going on.
“You know, when I look at this whole situation, it’s worth noting, the two of them, Kelly and Michael, they had such great chemistry,” Ripa’s longtime close friend Andy Cohen mused on his SiriusXM radio show after Strahan’s announcement and before Ripa returned to Live!, his mind boggled that Michael would leave such a great gig.
“And I’m just looking at this and it just seems like a premature end to a great relationship that ended way too prematurely. So much has been written about this situation and how it was handled. I’ve been a TV executive or producer for 25 years, so I’m always fascinated to see how TV things go down. I can’t say this went down the greatest way.”
“Clearly feelings were hurt and clearly she wasn’t included in the process,” Katie Couric, who knows about the politics involved in leaving one show for another, also told reporters during that time. “Transitions are incredibly tricky and they have to be managed carefully, especially when people have relationships with people on TV, they feel like they’re part of their family, and so it can extremely sensitive.”
“Nobody should ever be blindsided,” Oprah Winfrey told Entertainment Tonight. “I don’t know who’s in charge, but somebody should’ve said, ‘This is gonna happen.’ You shouldn’t have to read it in the paper. Ever.”
Even Regis agreed, telling paparazzi in NYC who asked his opinion on the subject, “They should’ve told her in the beginning.” She was blindsided “to a degree,” he observed, but “I can’t tell, I’m not there.”
Cohen, meanwhile, has been on at least the fans’ wish list of possible permanent new co-hosts for Ripa, as has their other good pal Anderson Cooper. Both the CNN anchor and the Bravo multi-hyphenate, despite being popular guest hosts, however, have distanced themselves from serious consideration.
Ripa returned for her 16th season of Live! in September, this time on her own but with a rotating cast of guest hosts, the first of which was yet another old friend of hers, Jimmy Kimmel. (Who also isn’t interesting in leaving his late-night show for daytime.) She and the likes of Cooper, Cohen, Neil Patrick Harris, Ashton Kutcher, Jerry O’Connell, her husband Mark Consuelos and many more spread holiday-caliber cheer all season long.
All the while, life was happening.
Ripa dressed up as Donald and Melania Trump for Halloween, as per Live!‘s tradition to go all out with topical costumes. She and Consuelos, who celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary amid all the craziness in the spring, saw their eldest child, son Michael off to college at NYU this fall. And Consuelos was shooting Fox’s freshman drama Pitch, so the family was doing more bouncing between L.A. and New York.
And what of Michael Strahan in all this? After leaving Live!, he spoke out about his own wounded feelings at having been perceived as one of the villains in this story, recalling to People, “The most disappointing thing to me was that I was painted as the bad guy, because I value the way I carry myself. I don’t want people to see me as ‘Oh, he just ran out, just left them there.’ That’s just not true.”
But now that he’s happily ensconced at GMA, having started his next chapter there in September, audiences appear perfectly happy to watch him do his thing a couple of hours earlier every day.
And while Live! has made a big splash about the search for Kelly’s next co-host, even holding a contest for non-celebrity candidates and letting the world get to know and love Richard Curtis, a high school teacher who won the popular vote on social media, no announcements have been made and 2017 will begin differently than 2016 did for Ripa.
Though not that much. She’ll still finish up her vacation and continue to rise before dawn and make it to work every day, where she’ll banter with whoever her co-host is, give away trips, charm millions of viewers and sip from that mug—the consummate pro.
But the conversation she started in 2016, when she refused to automatically forgive and forget and instead spoke up about the respect she knew she certainly deserved—that’s what’s going to remind women in 2017 that they don’t have to stay quiet when they’ve been wronged. You can’t always get what you want, but if what you need is to talk it out—people are listening.