Analysis: After Strahan-Ripa Rift, 'Live's Demise or 'GMA's Expansion Unrealistic

With all of the drama swirling around Disney-ABC’s syndicated talk showLive with Kelly and Michaelthis week, reports have cropped up suggesting that ABC was considering expanding Good Morning America to a third hour and even canceling Live.

But a closer look at both of these proposed plans demonstrates why neither makes sense.

Good Morning America is a network show produced by ABC. Live with Kelly and Michael is syndicated, produced at WABC New York and distributed by Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution. That means that while GMA’s programming schedule is controlled by ABC, Live’s is not. Live airs on TV stations, not all of which are ABC affiliates, across the country in different time slots. 

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In order to expand Good Morning America to a third hour, the ABC broadcast network would have to get its affiliates to give it back an hour of time. That’s a tough sell for many reasons. High among them is the fact that affiliates make far more money from time slots they control than time slots the network controls, because TV stations own more inventory in those hours in which to sell local advertising. Additionally, affiliates tend to have that time already scheduled with other programming, and in many cases, they may not want to move or cancel that programming.

“Reclaiming the hour is very difficult because there are a lot of stations who have long-term contracts with other shows,” says a station executive.

Expanding Good Morning America to a third hour is not a new notion. Station executives said that the idea has been in the mix for many years, but that notably, it’s not an idea that was mentioned during the recent ABC affiliate meeting at NAB in Las Vegas this week. 

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And an ABC News spokeswoman told B&C: “There’s no plan to do that and we remain committed to Live.”

Still, there’s some logic to the idea. It’s a move that worked for NBC’s Today, which expanded to a third hour in 2000 and a fourth hour, hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, in 2007. 

And ever since The Oprah Winfrey Show ended in May 2011, ABC has struggled with its daytime line-up. In 2012, ABC gave back to affiliates an hour in daytime, which they still have, to run the very expensive talk show, Katie, starring Katie Couric. That show never earned high enough ratings to justify its cost — largely due to Couric’s $20 million guaranteed salary — and was canceled after two seasons.

In 2014, ABC ran double-runs of its own Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and CBS Television Distribution’s Jeopardy! while it looked for another show. Last fall, Disney-ABC introduced panel talk show FABLife — starring Tyra Banks, Chrissy Teigen, Joe Zee, Lauren Makk and Leah Ashley — but it was quickly clear that the low-rated program wasn’t going to cut it. Banks stormed out in November and Disney-ABC announced at NATPE that the show would end its run after this year.

To fill that gap, the ABC owned stations this fall are going to air RightThisMinute, a viral video show produced by MagicDust Television in conjunction with television station groups Cox Media Group, Raycom Media and the E.W. Scripps Company, and double-runs of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which, also at NATPE, Disney-ABC announced was renewed for another season. 

But RightThis Minute, having moved off clearances on Fox owned stations, is averaging a 1.1 live plus same day household rating this year, down 31% from last year, and Millionaire has been in a downward spiral ever since Meredith Vieira left in 2013, This year, with new host Chris Harrison, Millionaire is down 28% year to year.

So, while expanding Good Morning America to a third hour to fill this challenged space could be smart from a programming point of view, ABC doesn’t currently have the ability to shuffle the syndie deck to make it happen.

Live, which has been renewed through 2020, airs on all of the eight ABC owned stations and most notably on home station WABC New York. The show does air on many ABC affiliates across the country, but definitely not on all of them. For example, in Dallas, Live airs on Fox owned KDFW, and in Denver, it airs on Tribune-owned Fox affiliate KDVR. ABC can’t just yank Live away from its TV-station customers and force them to air a third hour of Good Morning America, and especially not non-ABC affiliates that don’t air GMA

In addition, Live is highly successful and profitable in its own right. It’s the second-highest rated syndicated talk show, behind only CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil, and it’s been on a growth path ever since Michael Strahan joined in 2012, a fact that might be part of the reason Kelly Ripa is so irked that he’s leaving.

A successful daytime syndicated show is increasingly a rarity, and considering how difficult it is to develop a daytime show that works, it’s unlikely ABC would take Live’s successlightly.

What all of this means is that someone at Disney-ABC is going to have to roll up his or her sleeves and get Kelly Ripa to come back to work. At a reported salary of $15 million annually, Ripa can only afford to protest for so long. 

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.