ABC's Kelly Ripa diss shows how audiences rally around their stars

Kelly Ripa returns to 'Live'
Kelly Ripa returns to 'Live'

Kelly Ripa showed up for work on Tuesday morning, which normally wouldn't warrant headlines. After all, a woman doing a job she's held since 2001, co-hosting "Live! With Kelly and Michael," is sort of the direct opposite of news.

Still, this wasn't an ordinary Tuesday. ABC and its parent Disney had botched plans to move Ripa's co-host, Michael Strahan, to the more-important-to-the-company franchise "Good Morning America." Ripa was reportedly blindsided (albeit not in the way Strahan treated quarterbacks during his football career), triggering the TV-talent version of a tantrum, a public-relations headache and the need to smooth over feelings and mend fences.

Yet the Ripa situation also underscores a particularly strange aspect of the way the audiences identify with its TV stars, perhaps especially in the cozy environs of talk and morning news.

There have been no shortage of similarly bobbled and bungled baton passes, from Jane Pauley making way for Deborah Norville on the "Today" show to Ann Curry's more recent departure.

This isn't to say that A-level talent can't harbor legitimate grievances. But to call their problems "high class" is practically a disservice to the term.

Related: Kelly Ripa on her return to TV: Our long national nightmare is over

Having it be made so publicly known that "GMA" is a higher priority for ABC than "Live" had to be a somewhat bitter pill to swallow. Even so, it's hard to imagine that emphasis on strengthening "GMA" could have come as complete news to Ripa or anyone in her camp, given the frenzied nature of the morning competition with "Today" and their status as huge profit centers for their respective news divisions.

kelly ripa audience

In that regard, Jay Leno -- a guy NBC elbowed toward the door not once, but twice, despite years of yeoman service hosting "The Tonight Show" -- accurately summed up the lot of late-night hosts with a beef in the various succession battles that have played out, suggesting they could all go cry into large sacks filled with cash.

Related: What Kelly Ripa said: Full transcript

Nevertheless, fans often rally around stars in these situations, or at least express solidarity in a manner that suggests a certain level of projection is involved. Because while everyone can relate to having had a boss at one time or another who doesn't value one's contribution, what the average person experiences in such a scenario bears at best a glancing resemblance to these high-profile players, where those disrespected or even jettisoned weather the experience cushioned by golden parachutes and soft landings.

kelly ripa michael strahan

Notably, viewers' ability to generate sympathy for stars isn't confined to the conspicuously slighted. Take Charlie Sheen, whose employers on the CBS sitcom "Two and a Half Men" appeared to tolerate several incidents of bad or boorish behavior before cutting him loose. For some, though, the actor still came across as a convincing victim, even amid public rants regarding his "Tiger's blood" and "Winning" ways.

Related: Kelly Ripa gets a personal apology from ABC execs

After an extended ovation, Ripa got right to the point. "Our long national nightmare is over," she quipped, thanking her fans for their support "through this bizarre time." The host acknowledged reports that she had received apologies from her bosses, saying the issue boiled down to "respect in the workplace," and that the show's parent company "has assured me that 'Live' is a priority."

From there, it was business as usual. Host chat about Prince's untimely death and Tom Brady's suspension over deflated footballs, interviews with "Scandal's" Bellamy Young and "Blindspot's" Jaimie Alexander. While there might be moments of awkwardness down the road (look out for Ricky Gervais' appearance on Wednesday), for now, order has been restored.

"My dad, who was a bus driver for 30 years, thinks we're all crazy," Ripa said in her opening monologue, injecting a note of perspective that's a frequent casualty when such backstage skirmishes erupt into the open.

Both Ripa and ABC would no doubt like the drama surrounding the show to subside (although a little extra attention in the short term is likely welcome, what with the May rating sweeps about to begin), while the company and host seek to engineer "Live's" latest transition and chart a course for its next act.

If history's any guide, that usually means reaching an accommodation that works out reasonably well for all concerned. And honestly, when it doesn't and the marriage can't be saved, hosts of Ripa's privileged status -- even when they aren't "winning" -- are generally a whole lot better off than your average bus driver.

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