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'Live!' Preps Its OwnOscar Race…for Ratings Gold

For lots of celebrities, getting ready for the Academy Awards on Feb. 24 means lots of tight fittings, making sure “whom you’re wearing” will look perfect before and during the ceremony and at the countless parties afterwards. For Live! cohosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan, it means fitting more things into a tight schedule.

Both Ripa and Strahan have Oscar night red-carpet duties—Strahan beforehand, chatting with celebs as they enter Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, and Ripa afterwards, grabbing them as they exit the stage, newly won statuettes in hand.

Admittedly, the duty is no hardship, and neither is heading out to the lavish parties later on. But the real work starts for the two daytime talk-show stars in the predawn hours of the following morning, Monday, Feb. 25, when Ripa, Strahan, executive producer Michael Gelman and the rest of Live!’s crew have to be ready to go live on the air. Making it even more challenging: Live! will be coming to the Oscars straight from a week of on-site broadcasts from Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

This is the second consecutive year that Live! has gone live at the Oscars, taking over where Oprah left off. It’s the first year for Strahan, who was officially named Ripa’s cohost last September. In the week ended Feb. 10, Live! was tied with Warner Bros.’ Ellen as the second highest-rated talk show behind Dr. Phil at a 2.8, up 4% from last year at this time. And Academy Awards time provides a nice bump. “The Oscars make for one of the most exciting nights and exciting shows that we have all year,” says Gelman. “Last year, it was one of our highest-rated shows.”

Live!’s crew gets backstage at the Dolby at midnight, then has six hours to prep. In that time, they have to “reset the video truck to our speci!c needs, load and update our graphics, refocus lighting for our staging positions and reposition some cameras,” says Carlos Torres, VP of production for Disney-ABC Domestic Television, distributor of Live!. “We also have to block and rehearse performances as needed, as well as block and rehearse with the tech crew, especially the camera operators, most of whom just !nished shooting the Oscars telecast.”

“To make matters even scarier, we can’t confirm our guests ahead of time because no one wants to come unless they win,” Gelman notes. “Our bookers have been working overtime trying to get confirmed bookings from people if they win, but a lot of stars like to go out after the Oscars, they like to party, and to wake up to be on a 6 a.m. live show is tough.”

While booking the hottest A-listers is, of course, a priority for Live!, Gelman has plenty of tricks up his sleeve, including tons of clips from the red carpet gathered by Ripa and Strahan the night before.

“I’ll have enough,” says Gelman, executive producer of Live! since 1987. “You have to have plan A, B, C, D, E, F and G.”

Besides having to prep the Dolby for a live broadcast, Live! also fills the theater with an audience of 3,000, tenfold the number the show normally entertains in its Manhattan studio.

While putting on the Oscars show is a challenge in itself, perhaps the harder part is the next day. After Live! wraps in Los Angeles at 7 a.m., the cast and crew will rush to the airport. The next morning in New York, they will wake up to do it all over again.

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