Kelly Ripa Could Lose Her 'Live' Time Slot In Addition to Her Co-Host
ABC News executives have long coveted a third hour for 'Good Morning America.'
Kelly Ripa is losing her Live With Kelly and Michael co-host Michael Strahan this summer. But will she also lose her show's prime 9 a.m. time slot at some point as well?
ABC News executives long have coveted a third hour for their morning franchise. And with profit margins in the syndication arena on the wane, many industry sources view ABC’s move Tuesday to bring Strahan to Good Morning America full-time this fall as the beginning of a bigger play to expand GMA.
"We are committed to 'Live…', its fantastic production team, and to Kelly Ripa. We believe the show has a great future. End of story," said a Disney-ABC Television spokesperson in a statement to THR.
To be sure, the immediate priority for ABC News executives is to stanch GMA's recent ratings bleed. And executives believe the popular Strahan can improve the chemistry among the show's talent.
"The success of GMA is the No.1 priority of ABC News because it subsidizes the entire news division,” says an ABC News veteran who asked not to be named. But to that end, a source at GMA predicts a third hour could bring in an additional $25 million to $50 million in revenue each year while adding little additional cost to the show’s operating budget. ABC News already has brought in daytime veteran Hilary Estey McLoughlin to consult on The View, which was put into the news division's portfolio in 2014. The former head of Telepictures Productions, McLoughlin has copious experience in daytime including on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, The Tyra Banks Show and Anderson Cooper’s daytime effort. She could be useful in strategizing a third hour of GMA.
Such a move would bounce Live, which ABC renewed earlier this year through the 2019-20 season and which remains a bright spot in the syndication business, to either 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. on ABC-owned stations and in much of the country. (The show airs in some afternoon slots already, but some station groups have holes to fill in the afternoon this fall care of the impending end of The Fab Life.) How that would play with host Ripa, who is currently sitting out the show because she is upset over how the Strahan shift went down, is far from clear.
Executives at ABC News have long strategized how to expand GMA and have been envious of NBC’s four hours a day of the Today show. It was a priority for Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood when he ran ABC News, but syndication contracts made it difficult to pull off. The closest the division got was an experimental afternoon iteration called Good Afternoon America. But the short-lived show, which was co-hosted by Lara Spencer and Josh Elliott, did not confer the critical seamless brand extension a third hour at 9 a.m. would.
Last year, GMA raked in $362 million in ad revenue, according to KantarMedia. That’s why ABC News executives have been so concerned about the show’s softening ratings. So far this season, GMA is down 18 percent among viewers 25-54 and 14 percent among women 25-54, morning TV’s core audience. Publicly, ABC News executives point to the show’s lead over Today among total viewers, but privately they admit they need to rebuild the program since the breakup of the core anchor team that snapped Today’s 16-year morning news winning streak back in 2012.
Strahan, 44, is seen as filling the void left by Josh Elliott, who exited for NBC under a cloud in 2014, a few months after weather anchor Sam Champion departed for the Weather Channel. There is speculation that Strahan and Spencer could form the core anchor team in a third hour, though sources close to Strahan stress that no such discussions have taken place. ABC News sources also note the show could rotate anchors in and out of the third hour, much the way Today does.
Ripa’s resentment has been simmering since ABC News executives poached Strahan for a part-time GMA gig in 2014. His tenure on Live has improved that show’s ratings, and he has the ability to engage in the kind of easy banter that made the anchor team of George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, Spencer, Elliott and Champion so winning. Ripa, who was told by Strahan of his exit only minutes before news broke publicly Tuesday, did not show up for work the next day and told the Live staff in an email on Friday night that she will return to the show on Tuesday.
Media observers note that how Ripa handles the Strahan move publicly could determine whether ABC will suffer fallout from a dreaded "botched transition." Today took years to recover from Ann Curry's awkward ouster from the anchor chair. But few expect Ripa to shed any tears during Live. “This is a woman who has been through a lot with that show and she has never shown it on the air,” says one daytime veteran. Indeed, Ripa learned of Regis Philbin’s plans to retire 20 minutes before the former co-hosts went on the air. "She’s upset that they’re making GMA more important [and] just using her show as a training ground," says the daytime veteran. "It’s like, this was the plan all along, that it just was a revolving door."
April 22, 10 p.m.: Updated to include Ripa's return date.