Kelly Ripa recalls working out of a janitor's closet during 'tough' early years at Live!
Kelly Ripa has co-hosted Live! throughout several eras, but it was a "very tough" couple of years before she found her footing with difficult network executives.
Ripa made her Live! debut alongside Regis Philbin in 2001, replacing co-host Kathie Lee Gifford following a nationwide search. There were inequities compared to her male counterparts: Ripa wasn't given paid vacation time, maternity leave, a wardrobe budget, or even her own office space, she told Variety in a cover story published Tuesday.
It took more than three seasons for Ripa to negotiate a space — an empty janitor's office, no less — for herself. "It was the strangest experience I've ever had in my life," Ripa said. "I was told that I couldn't have an office. It didn't make a whole lot of sense, especially because there were empty offices that I could have easily occupied."
Rob Kim/Getty Images Kelly Ripa
Ripa was told that the empty offices were reserved for executives visiting from the west coast. "It was after my fourth year, that they finally cleaned out the closet and put a desk in there for me," she recounted. When Philbin departed, Ripa assumed she'd earned her own space, but "they said, 'Oh, no, we're saving that.'"
"And I said, 'Saving it for what?'" Ripa recalled. "And they go, 'Well, for when the new guy comes.' I looked at them, and I said, 'I am the new guy,'" She ultimately took things into her own hands. "I just moved my things. I forced my way into the office because I couldn't understand how I would still be in the janitor's closet and somebody new would come in and get the office."
"Initially, I thought this is just what happens, and they don't have to fill me in because I've only been here 10 years. I'm still the new girl. But then, when I was the more senior on-air person, it was like watching the same movie all over again," Ripa said, adding of the early years: "It was very tough. Had I known how difficult it would have been, I don't know that I would have gone for it."
She often felt disrespected, and then there was the issue of pay inequity. Ripa was left in the dark about the departure of not one, but two former co-hosts: Philbin and Michael Strahan, who left Live! for Good Morning America in 2016. (Following Strahan's unceremonious exit, Ripa walked off set and didn't return for several days. When she did return, she called for respect in the workplace to a supportive audience.)
David Steele/Disney-Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan on 'Live With Kelly and Michael'
It wasn't until her bosses knew that her contract would be up and realized that she could quit that she received pay equity. "I don't think they wanted to pay me. I think they had to pay me," she said. "I was trying to walk out the door and close it behind me. And I think they really figured out rapidly that they had screwed up in a major way, and it was not a good look. I think that was really the impetus behind paying me fairly. They had no choice."
None of the bosses who ran the show in those days have remained in the news business, Ripa noted.
Though Ripa knew of current co-host Ryan Seacrest's departure for some time, it initially caused some anxiety. He'll soon be replaced with Ripa's husband, Mark Consuelos. "Ryan and Mark were like, 'What are you nervous about? It's going to be fine,'" Ripa said. "And I said to them, 'You have to forgive me. I have a little PTSD.'"
Seacrest's final appearance on Live! will be on April 14. Consuelos will debut on the April 17 episode on the rebranded Live with Kelly and Mark.
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