UPDATED with Kelly Ripa’s return to Live:  “Our long national nightmare is over,” Kelly Ripa said to a standing ovation, in making her return to Live with Kelly and Michael this morning. “I am fairly certain there are trained professional snipers with tranquilizer darts in case I drive too far off message,” Ripa began, addressing her absence from the show since learning last Tuesday her co-host Michael Strahan was leaving in September for Good Morning America.

Thanking viewers for the “overwhelming” show of “love and…support through this bizarre time,” Ripa said she’d gone MIA because “I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts, after 26 years with this company. I earned the right. And, let’s be honest,” she told her studio audience, “I know half of you called in sick to be here, so we get each other.”

Ripa said she “gained perspective” by not coming to work.

“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, most importantly, respect in the workplace.”

Huge applause from the crowd.

“Apologies have been made, and the best thing to come out of all of this is that our parent company has assured me that Live is a priority,” Ripa continued – which may, or may not, put the kibosh on reports the Strahan hire was Step 1 of ABC News’ getting the timeslot to expand GMA.

“There is commitment to the show and people that work here and, most importantly to you, the viewers who have watched us every day for 30 years. I am thrilled for Michael. This is a tremendous opportunity and I couldn’t be prouder of you and everything we’ve accomplished together.” Ripa concluded.

“Incidentally….my dad, who was a bus driver for 30 years, thinks we’re all crazy.”

Added Strahan, who’d been standing to the side, letting Ripa have her Moment, “I’m so happy you’re back. You love the show, love the fans, love the staff, I love you.”

“This show has been transforming for me and I know this show lives on because you are the queen of morning television,” he said. Ripa smiled and insisted that title still belongs to Oprah.

PREVIOUS, Monday, 6 PM: Don’t expect sparks to fly when Kelly Ripa returns to Live with Kelly and Michael in the morning, Ripa having receiving apologies from execs across Disney-ABC.

Ripa went MIA from the show last week after being informed following Tuesday’s broadcast that Michael Strahan, her co-host of four years, would leave the show in September to work full time at ABC News’s Good Morning America. Among those who have said they’re sorry for how she learned the news: Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood, ABC News president James Goldston, ABC Stations president Rebecca Campbell — who used to run WABC, where Live is produced — and current WABC GM Dave Davis.

Late Friday, Ripa emailed Live staffers to let them know everyone had kissed and made up. “I wanted to thank you all for giving me the time to process this new information,” she wrote. “Your kindness, support, and love has overwhelmed me. We are a family and I look forward to seeing you all on Tuesday morning,” she added.

Ripa learned of the Strahan/GMA deal less than 30 minutes before the press reported it – though that part had not been in ABC’s playbook and had execs scrambling Tuesday, informed sources say. She did not show up for Wednesday or Thursday’s broadcasts (she had been scheduled to take off Friday and today). Her absence Wednesday seemed to confirm she was blindsided by the development, though Strahan had been contributing to GMA twice a week for about two years. More media eyebrow-raising followed when Ripa failed to issue any congratulatory statement to Strahan. Tomorrow morning, she will fix that at the top of the show, an insider says.

In going MIA, Ripa stole the spotlight on Wednesday from Strahan and his big news. Opening Live awkwardly that day with “I’ve been in the news lately,” Strahan discussed his new gig with fill-in co-host Ana Gasteyerof  — but the SNL alum’s presence in Ripa’s chair was what made that day’s headlines.

Snatching opportunity, ABC had announced Ripa would be off the rest of the week and Dancing With the Stars co-host Erin Andrews would guest-host as a fill-in. On today’s show, Strahan was joined by Pretty Little Liars star Shay Mitchell, whose show airs on Freeform — which, like ABC, is owned by Disney.