On his first appearance on the soon-to-be-rechristened “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” Ryan Seacrest had something rare for someone who seems born to be on TV: butterflies.
Stepping on camera after Kelly Ripa broke the news of her new co-host last May 1, Seacrest was seized by an odd, intrusive notion: a desire “to just get invited back tomorrow.”
Ripa was jittery, too. She’d been presiding over “Live” for – can it really be this long? – 16 years, first alongside founding host Regis Philbin, then, for a few years, Michael Strahan, then, the past year, paired with no fewer than 68 tryouts from whom Seacrest had been chosen.
“As the show began, it was such a secret,” recalls Ripa. “I was so nervous that I was going to blurt it out before he came out, and ruin everything.”
She didn’t, and he was back the next day, and the next. On Monday “Live with Kelly and Ryan” launches a new season – its 30th in national syndication – of goes-down-easy chat and interviews (check local listings for time and station).
By now, the instant rapport the pair radiated four months ago is simply taken for granted by all concerned.
“I don’t feel like there was a break-in period,” says Ripa, still seated beside Seacrest on the “Live” set after a recent broadcast. “I spent my first five years on the show terrified. He came to it, day one, ready. I feel so fortunate and thankful.”
“I’m excited to see her every day,” Seacrest jumps in. “We already knew each other, but I discover something new about her every day.”
That discovery process is the so-called “host chat,” a daily batting-the-breeze between the co-hosts that begins each show and has stood as the signature of “Live” since it began.
“There are moments,” says Ripa, “where we come in totally prepared and rested. And moments when we come in NOT rested and totally NOT prepared – if they gave Ph.D.s in screw-ups, we’d be adjunct professors. But those are the moments that are so revealing.”
“There has to be a level of trust and respect to do what we’re supposed to do in those first 20 or 22 minutes,” Seacrest notes.
“With Ryan, I walk into every conversation with ease,” Ripa says.
“There is no TIP-TOEING!” Seacrest laughs.
There is certainly no tip-toeing by Seacrest, a legendary multi-tasker: He stays on the run.
After joining up with “Live,” he agreed to return as host of the upcoming revival of “American Idol,” whose new network, ABC, is, like “Live,” owned by Disney. His Ryan Seacrest Productions has signed a multi-year overall deal with ABC Studios.
Meanwhile, he will continue his syndicated daily radio show, as well as a nationally syndicated Top 40 radio show, all conveniently broadcast from his iHeartMedia studio in the same Manhattan complex where “Live” originates.
He also hosts and executive produces ABC’s annual “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest,” and is a busy producer of series in which he doesn’t appear, including “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and its many spawn.
Still, Seacrest consider “Live” a special duty.
“There are very few opportunities to do what we get to do on ‘Live,'” he says. “I’m 42 years old, and to find something new on a daily basis in a medium I love is exciting.”
“Live” has dominated entertainment talk TV in daytime for decades, and that is unlikely to change. Even so, a face-off is nigh that media handicappers will delight in tracking: Kelly vs. Kelly. That is, Megyn Kelly, former Fox News Channel star who earlier this year jumped to NBC News and will anchor the third hour of NBC’s “Today” (currently averaging 2.4 million viewers versus 2.8 million for “Live”). Airing at 9 a.m. Eastern, “Megyn Kelly Today” will go head-to-head against “Live with Kelly and Ryan” in many cities starting Sept. 25.
What steps are being taken to defend “Live” against this much-hyped rival?
“I’m not being dismissive, but I don’t really think that much about the competition,” says Michael Gelman, the steady-as-he-goes executive producer of “Live.” Now 56, he has stewarded “Live” since he was in his 20s and has likely produced more live television than anyone on the planet. Rivals? Gelman has seen them come and go.
Megyn Kelly, he says gently, “is gonna do what she’s gonna do. We do what WE do to keep our show fresh, to change things up but to keep it the same. I think about what my audience wants to see. The fact that a new show is coming on is not our focus.”
The focus remains on nurturing the evergreen familiarity that “Live” has enjoyed with its viewers for a generation.
Seacrest cites the words of his mentor, Dick Clark, in voicing his own “Live” goal at Ripa’s side: “When someone watching literally feels like they know you and could walk up and start a conversation, and feels almost as if they could DO your job – that it’s THAT easy – then you’re creating the right atmosphere.
“We’re trying to create that kind of camaraderie,” Seacrest says, “and be a passenger in their life.”