On Tuesday of this week, ABC announced that Michael Strahan, the former NFL player who successfully replaced old pro Regis Philbin on the evolving franchise that was once “Regis and Kathy Lee,” was being promoted to the flagship of ABC’s morning lineup, and would leave “Live: Kelly and Michael” in September to become a co-anchor on “Good Morning America.”
For whatever reason, ABC botched the maneuver, failing to let Strahan’s co-host, Kelly Ripa, know about the change until it was announced publicly.
Ripa was angry and insulted, as well as stunned to lose her partner of four years without warning or the courtesy of an explanation. She decided to show her displeasure by skipping work, which is a non-no for a live TV show. She called in “sick” before the Wednesday’s edition of “Live,” and is apparently on a mini-strike for the rest of the week at least. Some sources say that she will refuse to return to her eponymous show until Strahan, whom she now regards as a betrayer, moves on.
ABC pays Ripa a reported $20 million per year, $36,000.00 per episode, and $818.00 per minute of airtime to charmingly babble away an hour of the mid-morning, seldom uttering a memorable thought or witticism. She should fall down on her knees and worship at ABC’s executives’ feet for this boon. They own her, and they don’t really ask much: all she has to do is keep her mentally squishy audience happy, do what she’s told, and show up….and cash a lot of checks. Yes, ABC was tardy in telling her that she was going to have to find a new co-host. Bad ABC. That does not excuse or justify Ripa’s unprofessional breach of her employment contract.
These types of show business episodes illustrate the madness of the rationalization called The King’s Pass or the Star Syndrome. Employees with unique talents or perceived high value too often avoid the proper consequences of their clearly wrongful conduct. If Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe had been fired the first time they showed up late, unprepared or drunk on a set, they both might have lived to see their senior years. ABC is in a perfect situation to make a memorable statement to all of its other highly-paid talents, and save itself and other businesses the grief of enduring tantrums like Ripa’s. That statement would be to fire her.
The only reason Ripa dared to pull this stunt is that she assumes that her 20 million dollar contract is safe. She is right, but she shouldn’t be; her unprofessional conduct is inexcusable, and she should pay the full price for it. ABC would be wise to follow the example of the BBC a year ago, which fired the star of its hit show “Top Gear,” Jeremy Clarkson, for abusing other employees.
Almost no one is indispensable, and the few that are tend to be the ones who don’t act as if they are indispensable. Petulant, privileged misconduct like Ripa’s ought to get anyone fired. Twenty million dollars should be able to at least guarantee an employer that the recipient will show up for work.