Daytime’s longest-running talk show, by a long shot, is Disney/ABC Television’s Live With Kelly and Michael, which launched in 1983 as The Morning Show, locally produced and distributed on WABC in New York and hosted by Regis Philbin and Cyndy Garvey.
Thirty years later, and after being distributed in national syndication by Disney/ABC largely in morning time periods since 1988, Live remains an a.m. destination for millions of viewers. The show is syndication’s secondhighest- rated talker, behind only CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil, which has the advantage of airing in afternoon time slots when more viewers are available to watch.
Live has had five cohost combinations over the years: Philbin-Garvey (1983-84), Philbin-Ann Abernathy (1984-85), Philbin-Kathie Lee Gifford (1985-2000), Philbin-Kelly Ripa (2001-2011) and Ripa-Michael Strahan (2012-present).
In an unusual feat for any daytime show, not to mention one with a long tenure and a new host, Live grew 4% in households to a 2.6 live-plus-same-day household rating and 7% in women 25-54 to a 1.5 after its first year with Strahan, according to Nielsen Media Research.
A longtime signature of Live, regardless of who’s hosting it, is the 10-to-15 minutes that the hosts spend chatting at the show’s beginning. That “host chat” has become the key to the show’s ever-fresh format, and it’s something that Michael Gelman, executive producer since 1987, encouraged and refined over his many years with the show.
“I let Regis and Kathie Lee be themselves and tried to have fun with them in a way that let their personalities out,” Gelman says. Along the way, Gelman sent cameras to his hosts’ homes, their doctor’s appointments and their Lamaze classes.
“If Regis was renovating his apartment, he’d talk about his contracting woes,” Gelman says. “He’d put his contractor on the show and make him promise that he’d get the job done. When Regis had kidney stones, we did a live shot from his hospital bed. We followed him when he went to physical therapy for his broken leg. We made him wear a sympathy belly when Kathie Lee was pregnant. We really became part of the pop culture. Live became a morning must-see ritual for so many people.”
Philbin—who stepped down in 2011 after hosting Live for 28 years—takes no credit for what eventually was considered an innovative format. He says it was the only way he knew how to do TV. “I didn’t know how to write a joke or read a joke,” he says. “When I was a kid growing up in New York City, I would tell funny stories to the guys hanging around the street corner, and they would laugh. I thought, ‘Maybe that’s the way to do a TV show if I ever have one.’”
At the time, Live covered topics that no other shows were doing: food, fashion and Hollywood. Today, of course, those topics fill all of the morning shows.
While both Philbin and Gifford made indelible marks as hosts of Live, part of the show’s genius— largely attributable to Gelman—has been its ability to change hosts without skipping a beat.
When Gifford announced her departure in 2000 after cohosting the show with Philbin for 15 years, Gelman made a stunt out of the replacement search, bringing in a variety of hosts to pair with Philbin until he found the next cohost: Ripa, who at the time was starring on ABC’s veteran soap All My Children.
“When the show was Regis and Kathie Lee, I watched every day in the makeup and hair room at All My Children,” Ripa says. “The two of them felt like family members. When I started guesting on the show, it seemed the fastest, easiest, most fun you could have in an hour, and I never thought it would turn into my primary job. It didn’t even occur to me that I was auditioning for it.”
Ripa joined Philbin in the cohost chair in 2001, and she’s been sitting there ever since. Ten years later, it was her turn to play cohost musical chairs. Philbin announced he would be moving on from the show in January 2011, and he departed with much fanfare and high ratings that November. The hunt for a new cohost was on, with various personalities—including Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Groban and Jerry O’Connell—spending time with Ripa. But ultimately, it was former NFL Giant and Fox NFL commentator Michael Strahan who stuck.
“I knew Michael was the guy, pretty much like everybody else, when he ripped off his pants during the Channing Tatum Magic Mike segment,” Ripa says. “When you watch him, you realize this is a guy who is willing to go for the fun, irreverent frothiness that is our show.”
Strahan’s entry may have appeared seamless, but he says it wasn’t initially as easy as it looked.
“After the first three days of being a fulltime host, I thought I’d run out of things to say, but I found out that my life is a lot more interesting than I once gave it credit for,” Strahan says. “I surprise myself all the time with what we end up talking about, and because the show is unscripted, you never know what is going to come up.”
Live remains a jewel in Disney/ABC’s crown. “We’re extremely proud that Live has been one of syndication’s biggest success stories since it launched nationally in 1988,” says Janice Marinelli, president, Disney studio global in-home and digital distribution, and Disney/ABC North America content distribution. “The fact that the show has consistently maintained its high level of performance, and continues to grow and evolve 26 years later, is a remarkable achievement.”