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The Morning Show Wars, Kelly Ripa and TV’s Disposable Spring

Live with Kelly & Michael Ratings
Courtesy of ABC

Much has been written about various late-night talk show wars over the years, but morning-show battles can be just as vicious. Case in point: The current blow-up over “Live With Kelly and Michael.”

News broke this week that co-host Michael Strahan will be going to “Good Morning America” full time, and according to reports, his fellow host Kelly Ripa was not told ahead of time that her co-host would be leaving.

Again.

Apparently, when Regis Philbin decided to retire a few years ago, that news was also sprung on Ripa out of the blue. After he left, the show went through an extensive try-out period in which Ripa had to work with a huge array of potential co-hosts of varying talent levels. When Strahan was finally hired four years ago, she helped get him up to speed and worked hard to turn their partnership into a successful franchise.

None of this rated the courtesy of a heads up?

I’m just trying to get this straight: The host of a popular TV program was blindsided by the departure of her co-host, who had secretly gotten a better job. Management knew about his new job, but she did not. She was told at the last minute. And no one in management thought this situation would blow up?

What I really want to know is, who thought it would be a good idea to ask Ripa to co-host with Strahan for months after the announcement — until he leaves for “GMA” in September, no less? Who thought she’d be up for that? It’s not difficult to understand why she was a no-show at “Live” today and yesterday (and for the next few days, she’ll be taking what ABC is calling previously scheduled time off).

I’m just trying to figure how that pitch to Ripa would have gone: “Sure, Michael is leaving and we knew that and you didn’t, and you’ll have to help us search for and train his replacement, and we didn’t tell you any of this in advance — but won’t it be fun to continue to work with him?”

There are times I don’t understand what goes on in the minds of TV executives. This is one of those times.

I’ve seen a bunch of chatter on social media about how Ripa earns a tidy sum from appearing on “Live.” Well, of course. We are talking about a bunch of very well-compensated people here. This is not about money, it’s about respect, and how that respect is conveyed, publicly and privately.

It’s about a woman who has been disrespected by different management regimes — and expected to sit by and say nothing about it. 

I’ve watched “Live” a lot over the years, as it happens. While Ripa was trying out various guest hosts, I was enduring physical therapy after knee surgery, and I saw it almost every day during that period. Lately, the show’s air time coincides with my gym time. In many ways, I am the show’s target audience.

All in all, I liked the Strahan and Ripa pairing a lot — they often brought out the best in each other, and their warm, goofy irreverence could be enjoyable to watch. But Ripa’s unflagging energy and subtle ability to course-correct have often carried that show, both when Strahan was new on the job and when various other co-hosts have rotated through.

Ripa was the star of that show, but as Nicole Beharie and Stana Katic have found, that status doesn’t mean you’re exempt from the kind of oblivious treatment that can stray into what can look like contempt. No doubt many things were going on behind the scenes at “Live,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Castle” — there always are.

But those of us in the peanut gallery can say what all of this looks like from the outside, and it just doesn’t look good. If nothing else, TV networks need to care about appearances, and it sure doesn’t look like these networks valued the appeal of these women or their on-screen personas, nor do many of their fans feel that their devotion to those shows is being held in high regard just now.

The truth is, the Ripa situation is part of a spring trend in which all kinds of women on all kinds of shows — and now, including morning TV — have been shown what they’re really worth. They’ve been killed off, written out and otherwise disposed of. Or blindsided.

(It’s worth noting that two of the most high-profile TV controversies of the past few weeks — the exit of Katic and the “Live” brouhaha — have taken place at ABC. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to see how Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood navigates these crises, which are taking place just before upfronts.)

But the spring trend toward casual dismissal and disposal is part of something even bigger: The way Hollywood treats women in general, even those who’ve managed to create solid resumes through grit, skill and endurance. When the Sony hacking scandal revealed that A-list actresses were making less than male co-stars with less drawing power, that was another battle over respect, not money. Of course the money matters: Equal pay for equal work is a concept enshrined in law in America, if in not practice at many places of employment.

But what also matters is how employees are treated — what status they are given, how they are made to feel valued, and how that value and respect is communicated to the world outside the organization in question.

At the moment, it’s not easy to make the argument that Ripa should feel valued as a longtime employee of ABC. Would you?