On Tuesday, Kelly Ripa strolled onto the set of “Live With Kelly and Michael,” declaring her unofficial strike over.
“I’m going to be completely honest,” she said “I’m fairly certain that there are trained professional snipers with tranquilizer darts in case I drift too far off message.”
Ripa continued, stating she “earned the right” to take an unscheduled break from the show after being blindsided last week by the news that her co-host, Michael Strahan, was ditching “Live” for “Good Morning America.”
At the end of the speech, she gave Strahan a strained congratulations. The audience applauded, the network execs disarmed, and Ripa marched back to the desk. Strahan stood to pull out her chair, like he has on every show since 2012.
“No no, I got it,” Ripa said testily.
The Cold War may be over, but it’s going to take longer than one week for these icicles to melt.
For nearly four years, Ripa and Strahan have been lauded for their on-air chemistry — a lighthearted rapport that led to a 9 percent rise in the show’s ratings. But off-air, sources say, the two hosts were frosty: Ripa resented Strahan’s lack of devotion to the series and his rising star; Strahan was sick of being Ripa’s lesser-paid sidekick.
A show insider says Strahan — who reportedly raked in $4 million as the show’s co-host in 2012 — merely used the program as a stepping stone and quickly became a diva.
He would show up late to tapings, regularly bring his entourage to set, and made the crew stop everything twice a week during pretapings for him to get a haircut at the studio. (A source close to Strahan says the haircuts were approved by “Live” executive producer Michael Gelman.)
While Strahan was as charismatic as could be on camera, one media honcho says, “when he doesn’t need to be on, he shuts down and can be selfish.”
Leading up to last year’s Halloween episode, Strahan was so difficult that “the producers brought in an audience for one of the pretaped segments so he would behave,” says the show insider.
Strahan often butted heads with Gelman. A few years ago, Strahan screamed so loudly at Gelman over a show-related disagreement that one of the producers hid under a staircase because they were “terrified and disturbed,” says the show insider.
Gelman tells The Post that “Kelly and Michael are two hardworking professionals who always come to work ready to do their jobs. Any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous gossip.”
Strahan once screamed so loudly at [Michael] Gelman that one of the producers hid under a staircase because they were “terrified and disturbed.”
According to an industry insider, Ripa managed to parlay the recent scandal into a raise on her already-hefty $20 million annual salary. (An ABC rep had no comment.) But the host is still fuming that she was informed mere minutes before a press release went public that Strahan would be leaving “Live” in September to become a full-time anchor on “GMA.”
His exit date has since been pushed to May 13, four months earlier than planned — a wise decision, given the current on-air awkwardness, including Ripa’s digs at Strahan’s two failed marriages on Friday’s show (“So you’ve gotten divorced . . .”) and pointed jokes about future contract negotiations the day before.
“She was angry,” admits a source at ABC, who says the plan was always for Strahan to inform Ripa and Gelman of his defection the day it was announced. “The story leaked within minutes of the meeting [with Ripa and Gelman] ending. So [the network] went ahead and put out the press release.”
Ripa, 45, staged a protest, refusing to come to work and toting around a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s book ” David and Goliath” in front of the paparazzi. To some, the move reeked of unprofessionalism.
“Do your job and show up. Be a big boy or girl,” says Terry Bradshaw, co-host on “Fox NFL Sunday,” where Strahan has worked weekends since 2008. “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you.”
The industry insider, who runs in the same circles as Ripa, says her refusal to come into work was a negotiation tactic recommended by pal Andy Cohen, executive producer of the “Real Housewives” franchise.
“Once the executives at ABC realized the huge mistake they made, they had to correct it — and the only way to correct it was with a big payday,” the insider says. Ripa’s contract is up in 2017, and the show has already been renewed through 2020.
Strahan, 44, joined “Live” in 2012 after Ripa and Gelman conducted a year long tryout of some 60 wannabes co-hosts in the wake of Regis Philbin’s 2011 retirement. To many, Strahan, a New York Giant who hung up his cleats in 2008, was a surprising pick.
While Ripa supported the hire initially and was part of the approval process according to show insider, the hosts’ workplace relationship quickly soured. (Both Ripa and Strahan’s reps declined to comment for this story.)
“She really loves the show,” says the show insider. “She knows how lucky she is to have it. For him, it’s a temporary home and this was clear to the people who were working there.”
“Things just got worse and worse and it was colored by the fact that [Ripa] was making so much more money than he was there,” adds a former morning-TV exec.
The behind-the-scenes tension didn’t lessen Strahan’s public appeal.
“He walked the red carpet and [the press] wanted to talk to him more than [Ripa],” says the media honcho. “She helped him get the job and he starts moving up on his own, creating his own brand. She started to freeze him out.”
Soon after he joined “Live,” sister show “Good Morning America” came knocking, offering a recurring twice-weekly gig. Sources say Ripa was approached with a similar deal around the same time, but turned it down so as not to detract from her namesake program.
Strahan originally wanted nothing to do with “GMA,” according to the morning-TV vet. But he had a change of heart as his relationship with Ripa turned more tense.
In 2014, the Super Bowl champ began juggling both morning shows, plus “Fox NFL Sunday,” for which he flies cross-country every in-season weekend to tape. ABC news execs assured Ripa that Strahan’s priority was “Live.” But the pint-size host knew from the start that her co-host’s exit would be imminent.
“When he had first agreed to go on ‘GMA,’ she said, ‘Watch what’s going to happen.’ She knew that when he started doing that, [leaving ‘Live’] would be his goal,” says the source.
As Ripa said on-air last week, “Live” is her second home. She’s been with ABC since 1990, when she starred on “All My Children” for 12 years, followed by the sitcom “Hope & Faith” from 2003 to 2006. But she didn’t become a star until she was tapped by Philbin to take over for former co-host Kathie Lee Gifford. Suddenly, Ripa was a household name. She was fiercely loyal to “Live,” and she expected the same in return.
But ABC higher-ups were more concerned with boosting ratings for the flailing “GMA” than with boosting Ripa’s ego.
“The person who really wanted to move [Strahan] over [to ‘GMA’] was said to be [Disney CEO] Bob Iger,” says the morning TV vet, who says Strahan actually hadn’t been testing well with audiences at “Good Morning America” but that Iger’s mind was made up. (An ABC spokesman says that Ben Sherwood, president of Disney/ABC Television Group, made the final decision.)
For the network executives, it was imperative to keep news of Strahan’s move quiet. For one, they knew Ripa would be furious that they were prioritizing “GMA” over “Live.”
“She’s always looking over her shoulder because the news division has always eyed a three-hour ‘GMA’ ” says the morning-TV vet of the rumors that Ripa’s show will be bumped to the 10 a.m. slot — which Philbin admits to The Post would not be an ideal time for “Live.”
“I like the 9 a.m.,” he says by phone. (His wife, Joy, can be heard in the background: “Stay out of it, Regis!”)
And then there are the “GMA” anchors, many of whom the morning-TV vet says are none-too-pleased with Strahan’s move and with having yet another co-host with whom to compete for airtime.
Ripa’s bestie, Andy Cohan , blasted Strahan on his SiriusXM show this week for giving up “Live” to be one of five co-hosts on “GMA.”
“It’s a job you take and you take it for life,” Cohen said of “Live”“[Ripa’s] been at that job for 15 years . . . So I can’t get over that he left ‘Live.’ . . . Your name is in the freaking title!”
Surely the reported eight figures Strahan will be making now at “GMA” should ease the transfer. But the TV vet warns Strahan that “GMA” is a risky move.
“He’s walking into a propeller,” he says. “He’s strong but he better watch out, because the knives are out and all the different stars are positioning themselves to attack. I hope he’s ready.”