‘Live’ host shuffle reflects show’s staying power

Michael Strahan joins Kelly Ripa on unique syndie ayemcast

The end of Disney’s long search for Kelly Ripa’s new co-host on “Live” underscores how unusual the show is in today’s ayem TV landscape.

Ten months after original host Regis Philbin ankled the show, former football star Michael Strahan was anointed co-host on Tuesday. Producers said they settled on the former football star after a slew of on-air tryouts of co-hosts in part because they make a compelling “odd couple” on screen.

Even more unusual is “Live’s” ability to reinvent itself more than once during its 25-season (and counting) run in syndication. The show is the rare syndie skein that commands nearly uniform time slots across the country, airing primarily at 9 p.m. as the lead-out to local or network ayemcasts. That real estate has always influenced the show’s conversational, riff-on-newspaper-headlines style — a vibe that wouldn’t play as well in the afternoon.

Longtime “Live” exec producer Michael Gelman told Variety the key to the show’s long-running success is “evolution, not revolution.”

“We try to make our changes slowly,” said Gelman. “The audience loves continuity. For our show, it’s a faux husband and wife dynamic…Keeping any show going for one, two or three years is considered a feat, but this is now our 25th season…We try to let the hosts be themselves on camera and play to their strengths.”

The first nationally syndicated iteration of the yakker, “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee,” bowed in 1988 after four years of local broadcast and featured Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford as hosts. “Live” in the 1990s established itself as a syndie powerhouse and a morning mainstay with viewers, which led to jitters in 2000 when Gifford ankled the show. Ripa, an actress on the Alphabet sudser “All My Children,” was seen as a left-field choice when she joined Philbin in 2001, but the two clicked and viewership remained strong, as it has in recent months since Philbin exited with much fanfare last November.

Strahan, a former defensive end star for the New York Giants, has co-hosted with Ripa 20 times over the last two years, yielding an onscreen chemistry that Gelman described as “off the charts.”

“Visually, you see the difference between him and Kelly — he towers over her,” Gelman said. “Here you’ve got these two people who share so much in terms of sense of humor, but when you look at them, they’re a bit of an odd couple.”

As for whether this new chapter for “Live!” will stick with viewers, Gelman reflected on past successes and is optimistic. “Twelve years ago when we found Kelly,” Gelman said, “many people were doubting whether we could continue the magic we had with Regis and Kathie Lee. We did it. Michael is so different than anyone we’ve had before. He has an electric persona.”