Strahan-Ripa breakup isn't TV's first botched transition

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — "Live with Kelly and Michael" host Kelly Ripa emerged from her brief "strike" this past week on stronger footing, having extracted an apology from Walt Disney Co. officials for giving her little advanced word that her co-host Michael Strahan was leaving for "Good Morning America."

She had briefly boycotted the popular daytime talk show, saying she had earned the right to better treatment.

Her audience gave Ripa a standing ovation upon her return Tuesday, and ABC said Strahan was leaving nearly four months earlier than expected.

It was hardly the first time television executives had botched a transition, nor the most spectacular. Here are some other dropped batons:


Jane Pauley had been a mainstay on NBC's "Today" show for 13 years, first as co-host with Tom Brokaw and later with Bryant Gumbel, when the show's executives were seduced by a younger woman.

Deborah Norville, seven years Pauley's junior, lit up the screen on NBC's early-morning newscast. She was reassigned to "Today" in late summer 1989 with a big new contract, given a more prominent role than predecessor John Palmer. Norville was widely viewed as Pauley's successor, certainly to Pauley, who quit before she could be pushed out.

During her last show, on Dec. 29, the New York Daily News wrote that Pauley "often looked like she'd rather have been queued up in a 5-hour rice line in Bucharest." Most unfortunately, the show featured a long report on a horse that had been racing 11 years but had to be retired.

The optics were horrible. Women dominate the morning news audience, and "Today" was serving up their worst nightmare onscreen: a loyal woman approaching middle age pushed aside for a sexy new model. The show's ratings instantly fell behind ABC's "Good Morning America." They didn't recover until Norville left on maternity leave 19 months later and was herself displaced by Katie Couric.

Norville fought depression, then battled back as an author and host of "Inside Edition."

"It was personally devastating to, in less than two years, go from 'NBC's fastest-rising star' to a pariah in television," Norville wrote for The Hollywood Reporter in 2012.


If you still have a "Team Coco" shirt in a back closet, you remember late-night television's worst transition.

NBC thought it was being foresighted when it announced in 2004 that five years later, Jay Leno would retire as "Tonight" show host and be replaced by Conan O'Brien.

"I was blindsided," Leno recalled in a later "60 Minutes" interview, likening it to being told by a girlfriend that he was no longer wanted. He didn't feel much better five years later. He vacated the late-night perch, and was given a prime-time show that not many people watched.

Meanwhile, "Tonight" ratings sank when after O'Brien took over and NBC executives worried that the quirky sensibility that worked for O'Brien's later-night show didn't translate to a more mainstream earlier audience. They floated a plan to cut the "Tonight" hour in half, giving part of Leno and part to O'Brien.

O'Brien rejected it early in 2010, and began negotiations for a contract buyout.

With the axe near, O'Brien's "Tonight" show became white hot. Ratings soared, and his persona as the put-upon employee fueled superb comedy. Fans rallied around, buying "Team Coco" shirts, and Leno was brutalized regularly by fellow late-night hosts David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel as a turncoat, someone who couldn't give up his seat of power. Besides a reported $45 million buyout, O'Brien earned another late-night gig at TBS, where he works today.

Leno's transition to Jimmy Fallon in 2014 went much more smoothly. Fallon was an immediate hit, and Leno gracious in his exit.

Even then, though, he made sure to note that leaving wasn't his decision.


Star Jones, panelist on daytime TV's "The View," surprised that show's audience in July 2006 by announcing after a commercial break that she would soon be leaving after 10 years.

"That's shocking to me," co-host Joy Behar said. It shouldn't have been. The show's creator, Barbara Walters, said later that Jones had known for months that the show was going in a different direction. Jones said in a magazine interview that appeared that day that she had been fired.

As Jones made her announcement, Walters sat at her side, glaring.

To the proper television doyenne, few things were as important as appearances and the illusion that the ladies of "The View" were a convivial bunch. She told The Associated Press that day that Jones' announcement was a betrayal.

The next day, Jones was gone. Walters said Jones had been given time to find another job so the transition would appear smooth. "I would have loved for Star to have left and not said 'I was fired' and not make it look like the show was somehow being cruel to her," she said.

It was six years before she was welcomed back onto the ABC show as a guest.

Even on a program that featured the colorful and combustible Rosie O'Donnell for two separate tenures, Jones had the most memorable flameout.


Two decades after the Norville debacle, the "Today" show managed to top itself with Ann Curry's tearful exit.

Curry was a loyal soldier, reading the news for "Today" starting in 1997 and remaining after she was passed over for Meredith Vieira as co-host when Couric left in 2005. When Vieira quit in 2011, Curry earned the job next to Matt Lauer. Yet "Today" started fading in the ratings, running neck-and-neck with "Good Morning America" in the spring of 2012 after many years of dominance, and executives worried that Curry and Lauer had little on-screen chemistry.

They decided to replace her with Savannah Guthrie.

Curry's final show made for excruciating television. She was in tears seated next to Lauer on the show's couch, telling viewers: "For all of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I'm sorry I didn't carry the ball over the finish line. But man, I did try."

Again, the effect was immediate. ABC's "GMA" took over as morning television's favorite and while things have been looking up lately, "Today" remains in second place. Lauer's reputation with viewers took a beating, especially when Curry did little to discourage accounts that she partly blamed him for her demise. After reporting primarily on international stories, Curry left NBC News in January 2015.

"It was a hard time for everybody," Lauer told the Daily Beast in 2013. "I don't think the show or the network handled the transition well. You don't have to be Einstein to know that."


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