It's a marriage made in Nielsen heaven. Live With Kelly and Michael was a hit from the get-go when it debuted on September 4, 2012. And the frisky daytime gabfest — hosted by Kelly Ripa and former NFL defensive end Michael Strahan — continues to show surprising muscle. It recently tied with Dr. Phil as the No. 1 syndicated talk show in household ratings, beating longtime champ Ellen (particularly impressive since Live airs in earlier time periods with lower TV usage). With more than 3.5 million viewers, the show is also drawing its biggest overall audience since 2007—08, when it was still Live With Regis and Kelly. Why has this 25-year-old program caught fire? We corralled Ripa and Strahan to find out.
TV Guide Magazine: In this age of viewer erosion, it's tough to get your ratings up unless you're a zombie on cable. It's even tougher for a long-running show. So we have to credit this bodacious bump to Mr. Strahan, right?
Michael Strahan: No way! We credit everything to our extraordinary executive producer, Michael Gelman!
Kelly Ripa: That's right! No Gelman, no success. We are less than dirt without Gelman. But, to be fair, we've also incorporated our own set-side zombie. You've witnessed our producer Art Moore, haven't you?
Strahan: Oh, God! Oh, man! [Laughs] Kelly, you've done it now!
Ripa: Seriously, I'm not surprised our ratings went up, because Michael Strahan is one of the most likable people on the planet. He tells a story with such self-deprecating wit. He's the kind of guy you wish was in your family. Hey, Strahan, that's how we rehearsed it, right?
Strahan: It's so easy to do this job with Kelly, because what you see is what you get. Each morning I come in so excited to see her. I love it when she says something that makes me spit coffee out my nose. She makes me feel so comfortable that I'm willing to go on TV and do crazy things like rip my pants off.
Ripa: That's because he knows that if he won't rip 'em off, I will! We have such an ease with each other that I often forget people are watching at home.
TV Guide Magazine: Kelly, you auditioned 59 guest hosts before Michael was selected. What clinched it?
Strahan: We were like suitors on The Bachelor!
Ripa: Every time Michael came in to host for a day or two, it felt so warm and nice that the staff and I would say, "Daddy's home." It's true! It just seemed so right. Gelman, who is perched next to me like Tweety Bird during this interview, just held up a piece of paper saying, "I never called him Daddy." [Laughs] Yes, you did, Gelman!
TV Guide Magazine: We already know that Kelly is stalker-obsessed with Oprah. Who's been your favorite guest so far, Michael?
Strahan: Totally Oprah! She walked out on our stage one day as a surprise, and it freaked me out.
Ripa: By the way, in all these years, Oprah had never done our show until Michael showed up. But I don't care. She's fabulous and even more Oprah-esque in person. The hair! The dress! And she smelled so good! I hugged her and never wanted the moment to end. She is our global empress.
TV Guide Magazine: You two love to dress up and skewer other celebs. Should we analyze that?
Ripa: The ease with which Michael can turn into a woman and I can turn into a man is staggering. We should definitely call in a psychiatrist.
Strahan: Hey, I just go along for the ride. Kelly is so convincing in her imitations that I just try to keep up.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you ever hear gripes from celebrities you've parodied?
Ripa: In all my years of spoofing people, I only got one complaint—from Tan Mom! I don't know what her problem was. I thought I made her seem absolutely lucid.
Strahan: Better watch your back on the street, Kelly! She may throw bronzer on you.
What do your significant others — Kelly's husband, Mark Consuelos, and Michael's fiancée, Nicole Murphy — think of this TV marriage?
Ripa: Are you kidding? If there's anyone my husband loves more than me, it's Michael Strahan! No matter what we discuss on the show, Mark will always take Michael's side.
Strahan: And Nicole really adores Kelly. Plus, she's so grateful to her for taking on some of the pressure of having me around.
Ripa: When our men get together, they don't even bother to speak English. They're like cavemen. They just grunt.
Strahan: Kelly and I do have a TV marriage, but there's no jealousy, no upset. We make it work. [Laughs] We're just freakin' perfect, what can I say?
Ripa: Yes, we are freakin' perfect! Oh, and one last thing: Gelman forever!