Ripa's return to 'Live!' is all smiles following Strahan strife

Gary Levin
Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan have been co-hosting the daily television talk show "LIVE! with Kelly and Michael" since 2012.

It was all smiles for Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan, who reunited Tuesday on Live! with Kelly and Michael, a week after she was blindsided by news that he'll move to a full-time co-anchor gig on ABC's Good Morning America. And afterwards, the show revealed that Strahan will now leave May 13, three months earlier than planned, allowing Live! to more quickly begin its search to replace him.

Michael Strahan leaving 'Live!' May 13

They walked onstage holding hands to rapturous applause, after which Ripa took the floor to proclaim, "Guys, our long national nightmare is over. I first want to honestly sincerely thank you for welcoming me back to the show. The show of support to this bizarre time has really been overwhelming.  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, I know half of you called in sick to be here, so we get each other," she told her studio audience.

She said she's "thrilled for Michael" and "couldn't be prouder for you, and everything we've accomplished."

And Strahan continued the awkward lovefest, saying, "I'm so happy you're back ...  I love you, and I'm so happy you're here, because you want me here." He called her "the queen of morning television." (No, Oprah is, she corrected.)

Though it had been cast as an anchor feud, Ripa's beef was more with Disney ABC Television Group, which oversees both GMA and the syndicated Live! with Kelly and Michael, which airs on many top ABC stations.

After Ripa and executive producer Michael Gelman learned of Strahan's exit April 19, just minutes before the news was announced publicly, Ripa was a no-show on Wednesday and Thursday (when Friday's show was pre-taped). She had a scheduled day off Monday for a 20th anniversary getaway with her husband, Mark Consuelos. Ana Gasteyer, Erin Andrews and Shay Mitchell were fill-ins.

Replacing Strahan makes for 'Live'-ly speculation

But Ripa sent an email to the Live! staff Friday night, thanking colleagues "for giving me the time to process this new information. Your kindness, support, and love has overwhelmed me."

Disney executives apologized for mishandling the situation  And on Tuesday's show, Ripa said that, if nothing else, the soap opera "started a much greater conversation about communication, and consideration, and most importantly respect in the workplace ... apologies have been made, and the best thing to come out of all of this, you guys, is that our parent company has assured me that Live! is a priority ... (and) there is a commitment to the show," which has been renewed by many stations through May 2020. (Though she added that her father, "who's been a bus driver for 30 years, thinks we're all crazy.")

Kelly Ripa stays away from 'Live!' until Tuesday ... at least

"It could have been handled better," says analyst Bill Carroll of Katz Television Group, which advises local stations on syndicated programming. Disney says it will hold on-air tryouts to replace Strahan that will now start May 16.

In Strahan, ABC saw an opportunity to bolster GMA, which is down 10% this season, and 17% among adults ages 25 to 54, the primary audience for advertisers, while NBC's Today, which still trails overall, has regained lost ground. He replaced Regis Philbin on Live! in 2012, and has been moonlighting as a twice-a-week contributor to GMA since 2014, while continuing as host of Fox NFL Sunday.

Michael Strahan to join 'GMA' as full-time co-anchor

"Everyone realizes, including probably Kelly Ripa, that GMA is a huge potential moneymaker for ABC," Carroll says. But "Live! has been a franchise for Disney ABC syndication, and certainly something you'd want to protect at a time when it's difficult to successfully launch a new show. If I were in her position, and this sort of transition had been mishandled, I'd say, 'You're not showing me a lot of love, so show me another kind of love,'" he says, suggesting she might use it as leverage in negotiating a new contract — her current deal expires next year — though "I strongly doubt she's going to walk away from one of the best jobs in television."

Live! is averaging 4 million viewers this season, down 3%, and ranks as the No. 2 talk show in syndication, behind only Dr. Phil.