Kelly Ripa's return to 'Live': High stakes for everyone involved

Kelly Ripa Will Return to Co-Host 'Live!' With Michael Strahan
Kelly Ripa Will Return to Co-Host 'Live!' With Michael Strahan

What will Kelly Ripa say?

That's the big question being discussed throughout the daytime television community since Ripa revealed Friday she will be back on Live with Kelly and Michael Tuesday morning after a high-profile sick-out. How her return is handled could have ramifications for ABC and its two morning franchises Good Morning America and Live, for Ripa herself and for her co-host Michael Strahan.

Insiders expect Ripa to acknowledge her unscheduled absence from the show but ultimately offer an olive branch to Strahan, who will depart Live this summer for a full-time job at GMA. Ripa's anger over Strahan's departure and, more significantly, over ABC executives keeping her in the dark about it until minutes before the news broke April 19, caused her to boycott her own show last week. Sources say Ripa and Strahan have not spoken since Strahan informed her he will join GMA in September. But they had a cordial exchange of text messages on Saturday, according to one source, In a Friday night email to the Live staff that judiciously was leaked to the media, Ripa thanked her colleagues for giving her "the time to process" the "new information" of Strahan's impending departure.

See photos of Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan together:

Read More: Kelly Ripa Says She Will Return to 'Live' on Tuesday

However the on-air reunion unfolds, both Ripa and Strahan have a lot at stake. Sources close to Strahan say he has been concerned he has been cast as the villain in the situation, while much of the media has portrayed Ripa's reaction as diva-ish.

There actually has been tension between the two popular Live hosts for some time, at least since 2014, when Strahan took a part-time gig at GMA. Ripa was told at the time that it would be temporary. But ABC News executives made no secret of their desire to have Strahan on GMA more than twice a week.

GMA is in need of a chemistry adjustment; the show's ratings have dropped double digits this season among the 25-54 demographic and more critically among female demos, falling behind longtime rival Today on NBC. ABC News generated $362 million in ad revenue from GMA last year, according to KantarMedia, so its reinvigoration is a top priority of DIsney-ABC Television chief Ben Sherwood.

Read More: Kelly Ripa Could Lose Her 'Live' Timeslot In Addition to Her Co-Host

Strahan, 44, is seen as filling the void left by Josh Elliott, part of the GMA team that dethroned Today in 2012 until Elliott left for NBC. So the persona the former NFL star has developed with the daytime audience during his four years on Live is critical. Further attention on Ripa's displeasure over his promotion to GMA could damage that delicate relationship with viewers at a time he needs them most. Strahan, says one daytime veteran, "has a one-to-one relationship with the audience. His appearances on GMA won't be as personal with the audience as it was on Kelly and Michael. That show is a different relationship with the viewer."

See photos of Kelly Ripa through the years:

At the same time, Ripa, 45, is an important asset at ABC, so the network very much wants this situation to blow over and to proceed in finding her a new co-host. Her contract extends into next year, multiple sources tell THR, while Live has been renewed through the 2019-20 season. Ripa could look to leave the show for another opportunity but observers say few outlets would pay her the $20 million or so per year she reportedly makes. Ripa and Strahan, through reps, declined to comment, as did ABC News.

In short, both Ripa and Strahan have developed loyal followings that they know they need to keep. Prolonging this drama doesn't help either of them. Playing nice for the next four months serves both their interests.

Read More: On 'GMA,' Michael Strahan Says He "Learned So Much From" Kelly Ripa

ABC executives, of course, have the most to lose if this rocky transition becomes rockier. Sources say Sherwood, ABC News chief James Goldston and their teams are cognizant the way the news was broken to Ripa -; Strahan told her after the April 19 show wrapped, causing her to feel blindsided -; could have been managed more deftly. Rebecca Campbell, president of ABC's owned stations and ABC Daytime, has been spearheading the network's effort to get things back on track. Based in Burbank, she is said to have worked through the weekend and arrived in New York Sunday night in preparation for the Live shows this week. Campbell had direct oversight of Live when she was general manager of WABC, the New York ABC station that produces Live.

The ABC executives are confident the focus on the behind-the-scenes drama will fade if Live returns to business as usual. That process could start in earnest with whatever Ripa says on Tuesday.

Originally published