The past decade has seen daytime talk shows rise to become television’s most perpetually intriguing dramas. A chain reaction set off by Katie Couric’s departure from NBC’s Today in 2006 led to both wild upheaval at ABC’s The View (from which moderator Meredith Vieira was hired away, leading to Rosie O’Donnell’s tumultuous stint) and at Today itself (where a long-running succession drama led to, after Vieira’s relatively abbreviated stint, the dramatic exit of Ann Curry). Not even the Leno-O’Brien succession drama of 2010 could compare, though it certainly bore similarities.
The island of calm amidst it all seemed to be Live!, the cheery, chatty series anchored by Kelly Ripa. Sure, Ripa’s original cohost, Regis Philbin, left the series in 2011, but Ripa gamely went through a public audition for a cohost and landed upon the amiable former NFL star Michael Strahan. The format has been the same since the days in which it was hosted by Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford; the hosts come out and talk for a bit about what’s new with them, eschewing basically any hard topic in favor of the lightest possible chatter.
It’s the format, as much as the generally harmonious turnovers in the past, that makes this week’s developments so uncannily bizarre. On Wednesday, immediately following Strahan and ABC’s announcement that the former New York Giant would be departing Live! to appear full-time on Good Morning America, Ripa was unexpectedly absent. Guest host Ana Gasteyer looked on grimly and wordlessly as Strahan gave a speech thanking all those who’d been a part of his success on Live! Ripa was not specifically among them, but Strahan thanked her later in the broadcast, citing online comments about his initial statements as the reason to amend the record. His late mention was, he seemed to imply, an attempt to avoid mentioning her so as not to cry. Unless it was a passive-aggressive dig. For the umpteenth time, viewers of daytime talk were able to choose for themselves.
What’s happening with Live! seems to be a meltdown: Ripa began a planned Caribbean vacation early, reportedly refusing to come into work until, at earliest, next week, thanks to her discontent over the manner in which she was informed of Strahan’s departure and a perceived existential threat to the future of Live! It is uncomfortable. It exposes the seams of even the friendliest chat shows. Ripa and Strahan have shared coffee every weekday morning for four years, and are now uncomfortably disassembling that contractually-mandated bond in public. On Thursday’s show, Ripa’s absence was mentioned only briefly and completely dispassionately. The disappearing act existed within the show’s hermetic world only as the reason that Erin Andrews was substituting today. Moving on quickly, Strahan and Andrews discussed their favorite gifts to give, the TV show Three’s Company, and how annoying blackheads are. Wrapping up a conversation about the health benefits of whole milk, Andrews asked “So what else is going on around here?” and laughed. Strahan delivered an open-mouthed chortle and shouted “too soon!”
That Ripa and Strahan would seem to be icing each other out to such an extreme degree, Strahan largely silent about his cohost’s discontent and Ripa just silent, is riveting. It’s as subversive to Ripa’s image as a chipper mom/talk-show host/housewares mogul-in-the-making was her cameo as a party girl on Broad City, with the key difference being that the Broad City role was scripted.
It’s the sort of reminder that we forget shortly after each daytime-talk blow-up. The stars we watch idly while getting ready to commute to work or sipping our own midmorning coffees may truly enjoy each other. But experience has shown that, as a rule, they are less friends than associates, working with and, at times, it’d seem, against one another. It’s a testament to their abilities at delivering the best of their personalities that we’re able to forget that each talk show is a business enterprise with competing interests at play. And it’s a testament to how good they are at hiding everything else of their personalities that when any humanity peeks out, we’re more interested than ever.