After a week of strife, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan were all smiles when they walked on the set of “Live! With Kelly and Michael” Tuesday morning. Ripa, who had been absent since the middle of last week, took the stage solo and gave a big smile to the audience, who cheered with an extended standing ovation.
“Guys, guys, guys,” she joked. “Our long national nightmare is over!”
Ripa’s return marks the end of a tumultuous few days for the show, after ABC announced that Strahan is heading to “Good Morning America” this fall. Ripa was reportedly “blindsided” by the news and furious with Disney-ABC executives that she only found out about the decision last Tuesday, shortly before a news release went out to the rest of the world.
As a result, Ripa didn’t show up to work on Wednesday, which triggered a slew of stories about Ripa’s anger and the possible dire fate of “Live!” itself. Ripa – who has co-hosted the show since 2001 – was gone through Monday, although a publicist said her absence Friday and Monday were due to a previously scheduled vacation.
The incident spiraled over the past week, so Ripa dedicated few minutes aside at the start of the show to set the record straight. First, she thanked the fans for supporting her during “this bizarre time”: “I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts,” she admitted. “After 26 years with this company, I earned the right.”
Ripa said that during her days off, she gained some perspective about Strahan’s departure and how she was informed, something that might not have happened if she had returned to the air last week. “I didn’t want to say something I might regret,” she explained.
The whole mess resulted in a firestorm of rumors about her and Strahan’s working relationship: Maybe they don’t like each other! Or maybe things are OK. Then came the pieces about how Ripa’s experience symbolizes how women are treated in the workplace – sometimes like an afterthought, even if they’ve been an integral part of the team for 15 years.
Ripa acknowledged this: “What transpired over the course of a few days has been extraordinary in the sense that it started a much greater conversation about communication and consideration, and more importantly, respect in the workplace,” she said as the crowd applauded. “Since we’re being honest, I don’t consider this just a workplace, this is my second home. … We have an incredible team, we are incredibly devoted to one another. We are family.”
She referred to rumors that “Live!” is on the chopping block. “Apologies have been made,” she said. “And the best thing to come out of all of this … is the parent company has assured me that ‘Live!’ is a priority. There is a commitment to this show and, most importantly, to you the viewers who have watched us every day for 30 years.”
(CNN’s Brian Stelter reported on Monday evening that network executives reached out to personally apologize to Ripa, saying the higher-ups “expressed regret for the way Kelly was told the news.”)
Finally, she turned to her co-host. “I am thrilled for Michael, I am thrilled for you, this is a tremendous opportunity,” she said of his move. “And I couldn’t be and we couldn’t be prouder of you and everything we accomplished together.”
“So back to the show – this is entertainment, it’s supposed to be entertaining!” Ripa concluded. “So let’s get back to what we do best and start the show.”
She walked over to Strahan at their desk, and Strahan took his turn. “I’m so happy you’re back,” he said. “I’m so happy you’re here because you brought me here … and this show has been transforming to me. And I know this show lives on because you are the queen of morning television.”
Then the two segued into bantering about their lives (Ripa about her vacation with her husband over the weekend, which really was pre-scheduled!), but first, she corrected him: “Oprah is the real queen.”