Without drama, Kelly Ripa returned to work as announced this morning. Soon, spokesmen for the show began letting media know that Michael Strahan’s departure has been moved up by four months. Rather than staying until September, as previously annouced, his last day on Live! will be May 13.
I truly don’t think Ripa intended to start any kind of national debate when she staged her one-woman protest last week, refusing to show up for work Wednesday and Thursday after learning, just prior to the public, about Strahan’s impending departure. I believe her statement, upon returning to Live! this morning, that she “needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts, after 26 years with this company, I earned the right.”
Though she was skewered as a diva on social media last week, and her relationship with Strahan was dramatized by gossip outlets, Ripa returned to a generously warm welcome from the audience for this morning’s show. Starting a heartfelt and emotional monologue she quipped, “Our long national nightmare is over.” (I’m not so sure Prince’s family would agree with that.) She’s been MIA for four episodes, though two of those, on Friday and Monday, were previously planned personal days off.
As last week’s absence wore on with little comment from Ripa, media outlets analyzed the validity of her complaint and overwhelmingly came to her defense. (The Hollywood Reporter learned that Ripa did email the show’s staff on Friday night to thank them and affirm her commitment to return on Tuesday.) Not everyone was supportive of course and a few media outlets branded her a diva, claiming that her reported $20 million salary and relatively softball show topics mean she should keep quiet and show up.
She claimed her actions were not fueled by jealousy over co-host Strahan’s new job at Good Morning America, but by the fact that she was deliberately kept in the dark about the change.
Good Morning America is, according to CNN, a cash-cow for ABC, pulling in $360 million a year in revenue compared to an estimated $30 million for Live! In 2014 ABC execs had Strahan start guesting on GMA 2 days a week to help boost ratings. Obviously the negotiations to finalize his transition must have been going on for some time. To put Ripa’s name on her show, then exclude her from such an important conversation as a co-host change had to make her feel devalued by ABC.
Today she explained, “I always speak from the heart, I didn’t want to come out here and say something I might regret. So what transpired though 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 most importantly, respect in the workplace.”
This isn’t the first time Ripa has faced this problem with ABC. In 2001 Regis Philbin gave Ripa just 20 minutes notice of his departure before announcing it on-air. As a rookie then she played along, but it destroyed their friendship in tatters for years.
For their part ABC execs have owned up to their mistake and personally apologized to both Ripa and Strahan for the way they masterminded events. In doing so, and declining to try and justify their actions while issuing an apology, they have affirmed Ripa’s value to their organization. Ben Sherwood, president of Disney-ABC Television Group, Rebecca Campbell, president of ABC stations, and James Goldston, president of ABC News, conveyed a message “expressing regret for the way Kelly was told the news.” One of the sources quoted, “We had a plan which obviously did not go as planned.”
Janice Min, Chief Creative Officer at The Hollywood Reporter commented that this is one more example in a continuing trend of gender discrimination. Asked if ABC’s actions, or the ensuing media coverage, would have been different for a man, she said cited Anne Curry and Barbara Walters before saying yes:
It’s reported she’s paid $20 million dollars a year. She is a valuable, valuable asset. And some may say ‘She gets $20 million dollars a year, go cry in a pile of money.’ But it’s incredibly disrespectful. You’ve seen this happen time and again with females. That they aren’t going to be able to handle the bad news, they will freak out, that they don’t need to be part of the decision-making. It would maybe read a little differently if one of the executives in charge of this whole process was female, but it looks like it was men playing chess.
Here is Min’s entire interview with Brian Stelter on CNN: