ABC is having an Ann Curry moment.
It had hoped this week’s announcement that it had signed the very popular Live With Kelly And Michael host Michael Strahan as a co-anchor Good Morning America would generate positive press for the morning news program. Instead, ABC was left doing damage control over reports Good Morning America is about to gobble up Live’s time slot, leaving its “heart and soul” Kelly Ripa a damsel in distress.
On paper, the Strahan hire looked a great way to change the narrative about the lucrative GMA, which has seemed to lose its mojo since Josh Elliott and Sam Champion departed about 23 months ago. These days the program runs behind NBC’s Today in the news demo, while its lead over Today in total viewers has been cut by 61% this season to date. Strahan, meanwhile, has been extremely popular in his four years co-hosting Live with tiny ball-of-fire Ripa and, for the past two years has developed great chemistry with on-air talent, and viewers, as GMA‘s twice-a-week contributor.
Live, meanwhile, wrote the book on how to replace co-hosts. It went great when Ripa joined the show in 2001, replacing Kathy Lee Gifford. Its ratings actually went up when Ripa, more recently, spent 10 months kicking the tires on candidates recruited as possible Regis Philbin replacements.
ABC’s miscalculation: Kelly Ripa.
Ripa, who has been with the show since early 2001, was informed of the move after Tuesday’s broadcast – and just minutes before the media published its online reports. If this has a familiar ring to it, maybe it’s because of those reports you read a few years back about Reeg letting her know, minutes before they were going on air, that he would announce he was taking a powder. Or, perhaps you are thinking of two years ago, when Ripa seemed irked at news Strahan had been signed to appear twice a week on GMA.
Anyway, Ripa was a no-show on Live the morning after this week’s announcement. In going MIA, Ripa stole the spotlight, from Strahan, who was left to open the show awkwardly with “I’ve been in the news lately,” to Ana Gasteyer — though the SNL alum’s presence in Ripa’s chair was what made that day’s headlines.
ABC’s initial announcement, followed by Ripa’s disappearance and ABC’s subsequent announcement she would be off the rest of the week, re-kindled speculation the GMA hire was harbinger of a larger ABC News play to take over Live’s post-GMA time slot, in much the same way ABC News took over The View in fall 2014. “I would not be surprised,” one insider forecast, while others note ABC stands to make more money in the hour with GMA than with syndicated Live. Others dismiss the talk, citing the difficulties of getting the time back from stations; first-run Live is produced by WABC in New York and syndicated through Disney’s syndication arm.
Late this week, ABC tried to tamp down the bad press with an impatient statement saying, “We are committed to ‘Live with Kelly and Michael,’ its fantastic production team, and to Kelly Ripa. We believe the show has a great future. End of story.”
Except, of course, it isn’t.
Because, when they were taking stupid pills over at ABC, they also decided it would make for great TV if Strahan continued to co-host Live until he left for GMA in September, guaranteeing weeks of awkward TV to come.
Speaking of awkward TV, remember when NBC News bungled its can’t-miss move to shore up ratings with a new co-host for Matt Lauer, back when GMA was on a ratings roll? Then-co-host Ann Curry was named the show’s “anchor at large,” she got a fancy new title of NBC News National and International Correspondent/Anchor, and a team of her choosing to “go all over the world and all over the country at a time when the country, and the world, needs clarity,” as Curry explained.
Then, they gave her a final day on the show to sit next to Lauer and explain the news to viewers. You know, just like ABC must have imagined what a great idea it would be to have Ripa seated by Strahan when he announced he’d gotten a better job and would be leaving Live in September.
“Today is going to be my last morning as regular co-host of ‘Today, ” Curry began, choking up.
Curry said it was not how “I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years,” and told viewers: “I have loved you, and I have wanted to give you the world, and I still do.”
“For all of you who saw me as a ground-breaker, I’m sorry I couldn’t carry the ball over the finish line, but, man, I did try!” Curry sobbed. “For all of you who did watch, thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she wailed.
After telling her “You have the biggest heart in the business,” Lauer tried to kiss her on the cheek, except she winced and lurched away from him. Not as dramatic as going MIA, like Ripa did this week, but still pretty effective. Lauer wound up kissing the top of Curry’s head – an image widely used in coverage of Curry’s final day.
Note to Strahan: it took Lauer years to recover from that event and the press reports that he’d wanted Curry replaced.
Meanwhile, ABC is “optimistic” Ripa will report to work on Tuesday, insiders report.