It may be hard to believe, but Kelly Ripa has been hosting the iconic daytime talk show Live! for two entire decades. At 20 years in, Ripa has a ways to go to catch up to her late former co-host, Regis Philbin, who racked up 28 years on the program, from its local debut in 1983 until his retirement in 2011. But it's still an incredible accomplishment. So we're looking back on Kelly Ripa's first episode of Live! as Philbin's permanent co-host—AKA the day that it officially became Live! with Regis and Kelly. Keep reading to see what the star looked like 20 years ago today, and for some juicy talk show gossip, check out The One Guest Jimmy Kimmel Banned From His Show.
Ripa "auditioned" for the job in front of a national audience.
Kathie Lee Gifford left what had been Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee in the summer of the 2000, after a 12-year stint, and it was decided that instead of replacing her outright right away, several possible permanent co-hosts would get an on-air trial run. Philbin wrote in his 2011 memoir that Ripa had been added to the list because he and the producers were so struck by her personality when the soap opera actor was a guest on the show. Her tryout began in November of 2000, when she was still playing Hayley on All My Children, but it wasn't until Feb. 5, 2001 that Philbin announced to their audience that Ripa would be joining the talk show permanently.
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Her first show as permanent co-host was exactly 20 years ago.
"It became obvious to everyone that Kelly Ripa should be the one here on a permanent basis," Philbin said at the time, per ABC News.
In the meantime, Ripa kept up her acting career, sticking around on All My Children until 2002 and playing various other roles in film and TV projects, including the sitcom Hope&Faith. Of course, she stayed with Live! after Philbin's 2011 retirement, eventually welcoming Michael Strahan and then Ryan Seacrest as her new co-hosts. Philbin passed away in 2020.
For more fond memories of stars we've lost, check out Heather Graham Just Shared These Personal Photos of Late Ex Heath Ledger.
Ripa remembers that day being a whirlwind.
In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ripa reflected on her first official Live! broadcast as Philbin's permanent co-host, saying, "I don't think anybody was even expecting me to be the replacement host. It was really not a big announcement, it was just sort of, 'She is my new cohost," and it was business as usual."
She also revealed that she initially felt unprepared for the new role but only because of the show's off-the-cuff tone and the freedom the producers gave her.
"It was just sort of, 'This is your job now. Good luck, and godspeed,'" Ripa said. "It really is one of those places where they give you autonomy. There's guidance, of course—they'll tell you, 'Please don't bring up so-and-so's arrest.' Sure. Or, 'Please don't mention…' whatever. But it really was an autonomous situation where I learned on the fly how to do that job because I didn't really have a lot of time. I guest-hosted that first time, I think I guest-hosted two other times, and then I started working there."
And for another host's most awkward on-air moment, check out The Worst "Late Night" Guest Conan O'Brien Ever Had.
But she knew had the blessing of Philbin's last co-host.
Ripa remembered that Gifford was one of the many who sent her well wishes on that first day, along with flowers and a vote of confidence.
"'It's going to be the ride of your life,'" Ripa recalled the note saying. "'You're so cut out for this, and have a wonderful time.'"
For some inside scoop about Gifford's follow-up gig, check out This Is the Worst Guest "Today" Has Ever Had, Host Says.