“Our parent company has assured me that ‘Live’ is a priority,” Kelly Ripa said, as she returned to her talk show on Tuesday.
Ripa has been absent from “Live with Kelly and Michael” for a week amid an unusual dispute with the Walt Disney Company. She spoke candidly about it on Tuesday, confirming that Disney and ABC executives apologized to her for keeping her in the dark about her co-host Michael Strahan’s impending exit.
She said the dispute started a “much greater conversation” across the country “about communication and consideration and, most importantly, respect in the workplace.”
Ripa walked on set dressed head to toe in red. In an unusual start to the show, she stood alone, away from Strahan, and acknowledged the widespread news reports about her sick-out.
“I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts. After 26 years with this company, I earned the right,” she said.
“And let’s be honest,” she jokingly said to the studio audience, “I know half of you called in sick to be here, so we get each other.”
The former actress sought to diffuse tensions with humor. Her first words were “Our long national nightmare is over.”
And she profusely congratulated Strahan for his new full-time role on ABC’s “Good Morning America” — which is what started the controversy.
“I am thrilled for you,” she said, looking across the studio at him.
But the camera stayed on Ripa the whole time during her comments — a demonstration that ABC wanted to get this moment right.
After her remarks, the show got back to its usual business. “Back to regularly scheduled programming now,” one source close to the program said.
That’s what ABC wants. But time will tell whether Ripa or the viewing public hold any lasting grudges.
The public dispute started last Tuesday when ABC announced Strahan’s move. It had been in the works for weeks; “GMA” co-hosts Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos knew in advance. But ABC management decided to withhold the information from Ripa. She found out just half an hour before the news leaked out.
Ripa was “beyond angry,” a source said afterward, primarily because she felt disrespected by ABC.
Ripa skipped work for the rest of the week, sending the producers scrambling to find fill-in hosts.
Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood and his deputies had deliberated about when and how to tell Ripa, believing that she would be disappointed by the news no matter when she was told.
But they subsequently acknowledged that they “misfired.”
As speculation mounted about when — or if — Ripa would return to work, Sherwood and other top executives apologized to her.
As she recounted on Tuesday morning, they assured her that “there is a commitment to this show; to the people who work here; and most importantly, to you, the viewers.”
The communication helped get Ripa back to her talk show table — since faulty communication was the original problem.
Ripa and Strahan will continue to co-host together through the summer. Gossip columns have been filled with items about alleged tension between the two of them, so the hosts sought to disprove that on Tuesday morning.
At the same time, conversations are already underway about potential fill-in hosts who could try out for Strahan’s job. ABC said last week that it would hold on-air tryouts in the fall.
Questions linger about whether last week’s dust-up with ABC makes Ripa more likely to leave “Live” when her contract is up, either later this year or sometime next year.