Co-host diversifies but not leaving talk show

If Oprah Winfrey is the queen of talk, Kelly Ripa may be the princess and heir.

It’s not just the fact that the “Live With Regis and Kelly” co-host has far more daily viewers than Ellen, Tyra or Rachael. Like the other daytime royals — perhaps even more so — the once-simple soap star has transformed herself into a one-woman mini-empire:

  • She’s in constant demand as a celebrity pitchwoman, appearing in ads for everything from Tide to OnStar.

  • While there’s no K: The Kelly Magazine, Ripa is a regular presence on periodical covers, from Redbook to Shape.

  • She’s moved into TV production, setting up her own shingle (with husband Mark Conseulos). Projects in the works include a reality show at the History Channel and sitcom pilot developed at the CW that might move to another net.

  • While Ripa is currently taking a break from most acting gigs until her kids are older, she toplined her own primetime sitcom (“Hope & Faith”) for three seasons and would no doubt be welcomed back to primetime in a heartbeat.

Despite all this success, Ripa is still careful to play down the notion of Kelly, Inc. During an interview, she repeatedly refers to Regis Philbin’s role in her career, calling him “the magic behind the show” and expresses gratitude for being “the lucky person he picked to go on this journey.”

Indeed, to hear Ripa tell it, she’s almost the accidental mogul.

“A lot of my career has just sort of happened by falling into things,” she says. “I just fell into (“All My Children”), and with ‘Live!’ I was just sort of in the stable of ABC girls that (former daytime chief) Angela Shapiro said, ‘Come on over and work with Regis for the day.’ It was a series of things that happened to me.”

Ripa says working with Philbin upped her profile immediately — and created a new dilemma for her.

“All of a sudden, people would just give us opportunities,” she says. “We didn’t have to search for work.”

Ripa had to start thinking of the big picture, deciding which offers to accept or reject. The latter proved particularly tough.

“When I say no to jobs, it’s physically painful,” she says. “The unemployed actor kicks in, and I start to think, ‘This gravy train is gonna pull into the station and you’re gonna have to get off.'”

There have been opportunities that she’s rejected that have been big successes for the people who took them. For the most part, however, Ripa’s biggest rule for success is having no rules. She jokes about making “fear-based decisions,” but her central career philosophy seems to be, “Go with the flow.”

“I’m an ambitious person, but I’ve never been driven to exceed what I’m doing right now,” she explains. “I’ve never been, ‘I have this, now I need to do this.’

“But because I have no preconceived ideas of where my career should go, it leaves me open to everything.”

Whatever other avenues “Live” opens for Ripa, the host says she can’t imagine leaving the show anytime soon.

“I’d retire with this show,” she says. “There’s nothing bad about it. There are no drawbacks. … I’m so content with my life here.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more