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Longtime ‘Live!’ Executive Producer Praises Kelly Ripa’s Reign on Daytime TV: ‘She Feels Like She’s Your Friend’

Kelly Ripa first appeared on morning TV when she was a soap star on “All My Children.” At that time, she was being booked as a guest on “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” by a young executive producer, Michael Gelman, who eventually helped cast her in a lead role, replacing Kathie Lee Gifford in 2001 to co-host with Regis Philbin.

More than 22 years later, Ripa and Gelman are still working together every day on “Live!” which has continued on as one of the greatest successes in television history, currently reigning as the top daytime talk show in syndication.

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“She had that ‘wow factor’ as a guest,” Gelman tells Variety, reminiscing on when he first met a 20-something Ripa in the ’90s.

Gelman attributes much of the show’s success to Ripa’s relatability and keen understanding of the talk show format, which she has mastered for over two decades. “She feels like she’s your friend,” says Gelman, an executive producer of “Live!” since 1987 who has become a character known to the show’s audience throughout the years.

As Ripa is one of Variety‘s Power of Women honorees, Gelman sat down to discuss the star’s long-running success — and future — on morning TV.

Do you remember the first time you met Kelly?

Gelman: We started booking Kelly when she was on a soap opera, and I remember that she was really high energy, had this bubbly personality and was just great off the cuff. In those days, the “All My Children studio was right across the street, and whenever we had a cancellation, in the old days, we would be like, “Let’s get someone from the soap.” The soaps were huge, and she had a great following. So, we met Mark and Kelly early on, and they were our go-tos when we needed someone at the last minute, and they became part of the “Live” family.

What do you recall about Kelly’s auditions with Regis?

When Kathie Lee had moved on, we went through this whole process, and Kelly was really someone who was on our list from the beginning. When she started coming here to fill in, you could automatically see that extra spark. It turned out to be a great choice — I mean, here we are 22 or 23 years later.

Why do you believe viewers continue to gravitate toward Kelly for all these years?

She’s very relatable, but in an aspirational way. She feels like she’s the girl next door, but also, your friend from across the street doesn’t usually have the same personality as Kelly. She’s approachable, but she’s gorgeous. She’s a great reactor to what people are saying. She listens, and then she comes up with something very funny in a split second. Really, she’s perfect for this format. And the ratings and the success of the show proves it.

When I spoke with Kelly for her cover story, she said she doesn’t pay attention to the ratings because she’s very focused on entertaining the viewer.

We can’t totally ignore them, but we don’t try to sit around and be like, “Oh, when you said this, the ratings went up.” You would get too into your own head, and start to second-guess everything you do. When we’re having fun, the audience is having fun. We were sort of the first of the reality shows — even though we’re a talk show, it wasn’t really common for people to be talking about their lives on-camera. And she gets it and she’s good at it. She knows what to share. She’s interesting, and people pick up on that.

In the daytime space, Kelly is the last woman standing. When you look at all the shows that have come and gone over the past 23 seasons, the ratings for “Live” and her tenure are pretty impressive.

I lost track, actually, but since we began, there have been like 80 shows that have come up against us and gone. And we hear a lot of, “We have the newer, hipper version of this show,” and it’s just hard to capture. When you see this show, it seems so simple of a format. But at the same time, everyone who tries it can’t really do it. What makes it special is Kelly, and also the staff. We all get how to put it together in a way that creates that magic.

Do you think having her husband, Mark Consuelos, joining as her co-host extends the timeline for Kelly on this show?

Look, compared to a real job, none of us can complain about what we do because we’re having fun. But at the same time, it’s a grind. You go through different levels of grinding through day after day, being entertaining and coming on the air doing it. Change is scary, but change is also good. It keeps things exciting for everyone when change is happening. So yes, it definitely could expand her time. You’d have to ask her about her timetable, but I expect we’ll be doing this all together for a long time.

In our interview, Kelly spoke about the importance of the team being in unison and working together toward success on the show, which she referred to as a “collective.” Can you speak about Kelly as a leader on the set?

Kelly is a great advocate for herself, and also, for others. When she sees something she wants, she goes for it. She rounds up the troops and makes it happen. She is out there doing her thing every day, which makes her a tremendous role model for other people out there — and not just in the TV industry, but in general. Here you have this woman who speaks her mind, goes to work every day and is successful, is outspoken and intelligent and is taking the bull by the horns. She knows how to get it done. And because she’s on TV, you see that day after day.

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