Don’t be fooled. Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan may have been all smiles yesterday when Ripa made her dramatic return to "Live! with Kelly & Michael." But it doesn’t take a programming genius to know that the morning talk franchise could be in serious trouble — thanks entirely to the folks behind the scenes at Disney-ABC.
The trouble began when network executives told Ripa last week that Michael Strahan was leaving to co-host "Good Morning America." Adding insult to injury, Ripa was barely given advance notice — her briefing came just moments before the news went public.
Yesterday, she made her return. "I sincerely thank you for welcoming me back to this show," said a humbled Ripa as the audience stood and cheered. "I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts. What transpired over the course of a few days was extraordinary in the sense that it started a much greater conversation about communication and consideration and, most importantly, respect in the workplace."
"We are family," she continued. "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!" in a priority."
A priority? Don’t bet on it. Let’s look at the evidence.
Michael Strahan is being shipped to "Good Morning America" to help ABC expand that franchise to potentially three hours. Hiring the familiar "Live!" personality would help make it a seamless transition — at least in the mind of the typical ABC suit. But ratings for two hours of "GMA" have shown some slippage this season. Second-place "Today" on NBC has narrowed the gap. And dismantling a veteran morning talk show that still ranks a comfortable second in the genre (behind only "Dr. Phil") and brings in a reported $85 million to $90 million annually in advertising revenue and licensing fees would seem to make no sense.
But logic is not necessarily in the skillset of the typical ABC executive.
This is the network, after all, that almost destroyed its daytime lineup by unceremoniously axing veteran daytime dramas "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" within four months of each other in the 2011-12 TV season because it was cheaper to put rubbish like "The Chew" and short-lived "The Revolution" on the air in place of them. And this is the network that was planning on canceling granddaddy soap "General Hospital" for the very same reason, but reversed its decision following the outcry from the fans.
If ABC does mess with "Live!" (and all this sudden camaraderie seems awfully superficial to me), you can count on the masses boycotting the network the same way they did when "All My Children" and "One Life to Live" got the boot. As a rule of thumb, never burn your bridges with an older female viewer accustomed to a certain show in daytime. They never forget!
Unfortunately, Disney-ABC just does not seem to understand that it is the audience that comes before anything else.
Naturally, the suits must assume a third hour of "GMA" is a financially viable alternative. Given the age of "Live!," after all, this can’t be a cheap show to produce. Kelly Ripa alone is reported to be earning just shy of $15 million per year. And anyone who watches the first two hours of "GMA" will certainly hang around for a third hour, right?
But "Live!" is as healthy as a ratings-horse, so to speak, at levels close to one year earlier. It is still a revenue producer. And aforementioned ratings for "GMA" are starting to bleed. So, why even attempt to mess with success when there are so many other more pressing issues to address (like ABC’s fading primetime line-up, for example)? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Ironically, there was more drama in this recent Kelly Ripa-Michael Strahan brouhaha than any scripted show this season in primetime. And, naturally, ratings for Kelly’s well-publicized return will prove the importance of "Live!" It still has a tremendous following. But anyone who really thinks that Disney-ABC will stand by this franchise for the duration when a little birdie is telling them a third hour of "GMA" will save them that green stuff is only fooling themselves.
Don’t believe it.