Taking a full year to name a replacement for Michael Strahan beside Kelly Ripa on the morning chat show "Live" paid off in a big way for producers, who roped in Ryan Seacrest as co-host.
The former "American Idol" host debuted Monday on show, giving Ripa a marquee name to banter with at when she is about to go head-to head with Megyn Kelly on NBC's "Today" show. The stretch of guest co-hosts dragged on so long that there were rumors Ripa was more interested in going it alone than in finding a regular to join her.
That was never the case, said Michael Gelman, the show's executive producer. But Seacrest probably would not have been available had the show moved more quickly, he said. Discussions with him about joining the show full-time started after he co-hosted around the time of the Oscars, the sixth time Seacrest had filled that role, Gelman said.
"He's a master of live television," Gelman said. "He's done so many live and taped shows. He is really an experienced broadcaster. You put the two of them together and it's a terrific team."
Seacrest, 42, is a busy show-biz presence, hosting ABC's New Year's Eve show, red carpet coverage on E! Entertainment and a daily Los Angeles-based radio show. He has his own production company. But the ending of "American Idol" gave that show's host less of a regular television presence.
He'll move to New York for the new job, although he will continue his radio show.
Seacrest's hiring is a coup for "Live" in that producers won't have to break in somebody new to the audience, said Bill Carroll, a veteran consultant and expert on the daytime television market.
"It was unexpected," Carroll said. "I thought it would be somebody we don't know, and it turned out be someone we know quite well."
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His hiring also gives "Live" a jump on NBC and Kelly, who NBC confirmed Monday will take over the "Today" 9 a.m. slot in direct competition with Ripa and Seacrest. Gelman said this was not part of the show's thinking. "We work independently with what is best for our show," he said.
It goes a long way to erasing any bad feelings left from the Strahan departure. That was handled so poorly that Ripa skipped the show for two days in protest. The lengthy delay didn't hurt "Live" in the ratings, easing any pressure on producers to move more swiftly. Guest co-hosts like Jerry O'Connell, Fred Savage and Andy Cohen took their turns next to Ripa.
"Nice to see you, partner," Seacrest said as he walked onto the New York set of the show made famous by Regis Philbin.
Seacrest and Ripa moved quickly into the rhythms of the morning show, with a freewheeling discussion that included Ripa's revelation of when she last had sex. Actor Chris Pratt was the first guest, and he carried balloons and roses onstage to give to the new broadcast team.
"Ryan is a close friend and his star shines as brightly off camera as it does on," Ripa said. "His tremendous success is only matched by his impeccable reputation. Plainly said, everyone loves him, and so will our daily viewers."