Kelly Ripa made her much-anticipated return to Live with Kelly and Michael on Tuesday, her first appearance on the show since news broke last week that Michael Strahan will be leaving the show for Good Morning America.

Ripa and Strahan entered hand-in-hand at the start of Tuesday's show, before Strahan held back and let Ripa briefly address the screaming audience.

"Our long national nightmare is over," she quipped, joking that snipers were likely on-hand with tranquilizer darts in case she strayed "too far off message."

Michael Strahan leaving Livefor Good Morning America

Ripa tackled her co-host's impending exit, as well as the reports that news of his departure "infuriated" her, head-on, getting in a few digs at ABC in the process. (She also noted that, while her absence the day after Strahan's exit was announced was unexpected, she had always planned to take the rest of the week off due to a trip she and her husband had planned for their 20th anniversary.)

"I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts," she admitted. "After 26 years with this company, I earned the right. ... I didn't want to come out here and just say something I might regret."

On Monday, ABC apologized to Ripa for blindsiding her with the news about Strahan's exit. Ripa acknowledged the apology and said she's grateful the controversy has started a "greater conversation about communication and consideration, and most importantly, respect in the workplace."

Added Ripa: "I am thrilled for Michael. ... This is a tremendous opportunity and I couldn't be, we couldn't be, prouder of you."