"Guys, guys, guys," began Kelly Ripa, clad in a sleeveless, red pantsuit, visibly struggling to fight back tears. The Live! With Kelly and Michael audience, crew and most notably, co-host Michael Strahan, continued to offer up thunderous applause. "Guys, guys, guys, guys," she interjected. "Our national nightmare is over. Please sit down."
Ripa next made a joke about how nervous her Disney-ABC bosses must be about what she was about to say. “I’m going to be completely honest, I’m fairly certain there are trained professional snipers with tranquilizer darts in case I drift too far off message. I first want to honestly, sincerely thank you for welcoming me back to the show.”
Ripa made international headlines when she failed to show up for work last week, the day after learning Strahan was leaving their hit syndicated talk show, Live! With Kelly and Michael, for ABC's Good Morning America. She then left the country for a pre-scheduled anniversary trip with husband Mark Consuelos.
"The love, the show of support, through this bizarre time has been really overwhelming," Ripa said to more applause. "I really...I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts. After 26 years with this company, I earned the right. And let’s be honest, I know half of you called in sick to be here, so we get each other."
From 1990-2002, Ripa appeared on ABC Daytime's long-running soap opera All My Children as spunky, alcoholic heroine Hayley Vaughan Cortlandt McIntyre Santos. She met Consuelos on the program when he was cast as Hayley's love interest, Mateo.
In 2000, Ripa began auditioning to fill the Live! co-host slot vacated by Kathie Lee Gifford. By 2001, she had the job opposite Regis Philbin. When Philbin left the series a decade later, Ripa became the senior host. After another round of co-host auditions, former NFL player Strahan became Ripa's permanent co-host in 2012.
Ripa said her time in Turks and Caicos gave her some much needed clarity. "In that time [off] I gained some perspective. I always speak from the heart. I didn’t want to come out here and just say something I might regret. So what transpired over the course of a few days has been extraordinary in the sense that it started a much greater conversation about communication and consideration, and most importantly, respect in the workplace.”
Ripa pointed out she doesn't simply see Live! as a gig; it's her second home. “This is a place that I’ve devoted myself to, not just because of you, our loyal viewers, but because of all of the producers and the crew who work on this show. We have an incredible team, we are incredibly devoted to one another. We are family. 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! is a priority.”
Since news of Strahan's exit broke, industry bibles and entertainment websites have speculated Disney-ABC was planning to cancel Live!, or move it from its lucrative 9 am time slot in order to expand Good Morning America. “Guys, calm down, they didn’t say anything about Christmas bonuses,” Ripa joked about the assurances she received from the media conglomerate, still visibly shaken.
Ripa congratulated Strahan on his new job. “I am thrilled for Michael, I’m thrilled for you [turning to him for the first time]. This is a tremendous opportunity and I couldn’t be, and we couldn’t be, prouder of you.”
Ripa wrapped perhaps the most emotional Live! opening segment of all time by refocusing on the show part of show business. “This is entertainment. It’s supposed to be entertaining. So let’s get back to what we do best and start the show. Oh wait, incidentally, I just want to say one thing, my dad, who was a bus driver for 30 years, thinks we’re all crazy. And I think he’s right.”
Strahan called Ripa the "queen of morning television" while welcoming her back. Various online reports allege long-standing tension between the co-hosts, with both accused of being "divas".
What did you think of Ripa's big Live! return? Sound off in the comments!