Disney’s Live With Kelly and Ryan returned to the studio on Labor Day, Sept. 7 to debut season 33 after having produced the show remotely for nearly six months. And while Live managed to make things work -- and stay live -- during that time of disruption, the whole team was happy to be back at work, even though social distancing and other COVID-related protocols remain in place.
To some extent, Live made the most of the pandemic because it was one of the few shows in syndication that managed to stay live throughout quarantine. That constant connection between the show’s hosts, Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, and the show’s audience revealed itself in the ratings over the summer, when Live was syndication’s top talk show throughout most of the spring and summer, averaging nearly 2.7 million viewers each day. For the first time in the show’s 32-year history, Live With Kelly and Ryan ended the season as the top talk show among two key daytime demographics: women 18-49 and women 25-54, according to Nielsen.
“Being on five days a week for so long, we pride ourselves on interacting and engaging with the audience as real people. We bring comfort [because] we become like their at-home friends,” said Executive Producer Michael Gelman. “Kelly and Ryan are in [the audience’s] homes five days a week year after year, and the audience has been through many good and bad times with them.”
During the pandemic, “we were there for people, we never really missed a show,” Gelman said, even though it required most of his staff, including himself, Ripa and Seacrest, to produce the show from their homes.
That wasn’t always easy because even Kelly Ripa can have internet problems: “One thing that was totally beyond our control was that we really were dependent on the internet and its speed. At a certain time every day, it would slow down, come to a halt and get choppy, especially for Kelly. Long Island didn’t have great internet capacity. I was out there too and I would experience the same thing and it’s a pretty panicky feeling when you are about to lose your host,” Gelman said.
“At one point, we were doing a wedding for a couple who were both transit officers. Their wedding had been postponed by COVID, so we were doing a virtual wedding and all of a sudden, the internet started going down. So in the middle of the show, Kelly ran over to the home of someone who works for her production company and got back on the air,” Gelman said.
Going into season 33, Live is leaning into the pandemic, offering four weeks of content that’s themed “Live @Home.” The first week was @Home Improvement Week, and the show aired segments on painting, DIY projects and repairs and more. This week, it was Cooking School @Home, teaching viewers such things as knife skills, how to cook with herbs and Meat 101. Next week, Live will dive into money, tackling such topics as early retirement, savings, paying off debt and more. And the last week of the month will see the show exploring home health care, such as first aid, self-care and kitchen cures.
Of course, celebrities will be part of the mix, with some of them, such as John Leguizamo, even coming to the studio, although staying at a safe distance away from the hosts. Others will continue to Skype in, but viewers are used to that at this point. Besides Leguizamo, other celebrities slated to appear on Live this month are Jimmy Kimmel before he hosts Sunday’s virtual primetime Emmy awards, new Dancing with the Stars host Tyra Banks, Real Housewife of New York and businesswoman Bethenny Frankel and friend of the show Josh Groban.
There also will be so-called “regular people” segments focusing on “Heroes” and “Good News” and a new segment featuring families who are fans of the show.
“We were just doing the first one and the youngest child in the Garcia family just went rogue,” Gelman said. “But it’s real and it’s live and it’s what happens in any family -- a little child just starts doing what they want and it was very entertaining on all sides.”
Looking ahead, Live is working hard to book as many live in-studio guests as possible and Gelman and crew is still planning the show’s annual big and highly rated Halloween costume blowout in which Ripa and Seacrest appear in many costumes.
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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.