Kelly Ripa, host and executive producer of Disney-ABC Television’s long-running daytime talker Live with Kelly and Ryan, is surprised to find herself still in the host’s seat at 7 Lincoln Square in New York after nearly 19 years. In fact, she was surprised to end up there in the first place.
“I often say I got this job because I was the one person not trying to get this job,” Ripa laughed. “There’s something so appealing to people about people who are disinterested. It was such a low-stakes situation for me and that allowed me to be myself, which is crucial to doing this job. You cannot succeed in this job if you aren’t yourself.”
When Ripa was invited to guest host Live with Regis and Kathie Lee in November 2000, Kathie Lee Gifford had announced her departure and Live was looking for Regis Philbin’s next great female co-host. Ripa, who was then starring on ABC’s All My Children (conveniently located across the street), agreed to the occasional gig, but she and husband (and AMC co-star) Mark Consuelos had been simultaneously talking about her leaving the soap opera and staying home to raise the kids. At the time, she had a son, Michael, and was pregnant with her second child, Lola. (Ripa gave birth to the couple’s third child, Joaquin, in 2003.) That stay-at-home mom notion was a nice plan, but it never came to fruition.
The show auditioned several women — including Jane Krakowski, Valerie Bertinelli and Bernadette Peters — but Ripa was announced as co-host and made her debut on Feb. 5, 2001.
A Natural Fit
“When Kathie Lee left, we were going through this whole process of trying out different hosts,” said executive producer Michael Gelman. “Kelly was on our original list. She was just really funny and quick and real and all of those things that she still is.”
For the first year, Ripa continued on All My Children until her contract ended in 2002. Then, she took a starring role in a primetime sitcom, ABC’s Hope and Faith, which ran from 2003-06.
Holding down two full-time jobs while raising two small children was a lot, however, and when Hope and Faith ended, Ripa happily scaled back to just doing Live.
And while many people in television love the rush of live TV, Ripa says there are other reasons she finds the format appealing: “I like the hours of live TV. The adrenaline I could do without. Adrenaline makes you feel alive in the moment but afterwards I’m good and mush-brained for several hours,” she joked.
The continued success of Live — and the show has been airing in national syndication since 1988 — is due to both the format and to the fact that its viewers feel like its hosts are friends they have invited into their living room.
“Our viewers wake up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee and turn on the TV to hang out with us,” Ripa said. “We scour and curate our news feeds so that we can find the best, funniest, most ridiculous stories that will make you laugh and be a departure from what you’ve already heard all morning long; stories that will take you out of your headspace, put a smile on your face and distract you from the reality that there’s a lot of bad news these days.”
Ripa’s natural talent and charisma have helped turn her co-hosts and guest hosts into friends for viewers. After Philbin retired in 2011 at the age of 80, the show ran auditions again. Many men were considered front-runners — including Jerry O’Connell, Josh Groban and Neil Patrick Harris — but the show settled on ex-New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan in 2012. Strahan shot to fame in the new role and departed in May 2016 to go to ABC’s Good Morning America full-time.
Ripa had long wanted to work with her good friend Ryan Seacrest, but the logistics of his schedule and Los Angeles-based work — particularly American Idol — made it impossible.
This time around, however, ABC, Live and Seacrest all worked together to make Live with Kelly and Ryan possible. Seacrest was announced as Live’s next co-host in May 2017.
One advantage of Seacrest is that he was already a seasoned pro when it came to live TV after 14 years of hosting American Idol live in front of millions of viewers.
“I understand what Kelly does,” Seacrest said. “It takes a special individual to do what she does every day and make it accessible, funny, clever and quick. It’s not an easy job, although she makes it look easy. We have a profound mutual respect for each other and that allows us to have magical chemistry and a special relationship. There’s nothing either one of us can do that will mean we don’t have the other’s back.”
Having that kind of trust with her co-host is important to Ripa. “Sometimes stunt casting for stunt casting’s sake can make one hour feel like six days,” she said. “So much of this job is about trusting the person sitting next to you. I have been really lucky to surround myself with people I trust and know and love.”
“Kelly is honest, she’s smart, she knows when to infuse levity, she makes everyone shine as a guest and feel comfortable,” Seacrest continued. “She creates a dynamic that allows people who don’t know her feel as if they have spent a lifetime with her. It’s not forced or contrived — the genuine and authentic Kelly that you see on TV is who you get in person.”
But it’s not just Ripa’s personality that has kept her on the air every morning: it’s also her willingness to grow, change, learn and eventually, to lead.
“Kelly has continued to be popular over all these years because of all that realness and energy and because of her quick comedic instincts,” Gelman said. “Over time, she really has become a very experienced broadcaster. She’s at the top of her game and one of the best in the business.”