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Kelly Ripa calls for workplace respect and gets an apology as Michael Strahan decides to exit early

Kelly Ripa returned Tuesday to “Live with Michael and Kelly” and relayed assurances that Disney/ABC remains committed to her syndicated program.

But her on-air co-host, Michael Strahan, will be departing for ABC’s “Good Morning America” sooner than expected.

“After meeting with the producers of both ‘Live’ and ‘Good Morning America,’ and after speaking with Kelly and Michael, we have decided on a plan that best advantages both shows for the future,” Disney/ABC said in a statement issued after the program. “To that end, Michael’s last day on ‘Live’ will be on Friday, May 13, which not only gives the show the chance to have a nice send-off for him during the May book, but to also immediately begin the on-air search for a new co-host.”

A company spokesperson said Strahan’s early exit was not a condition for Ripa’s return to the program after she sat out two days last week.

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It had been announced that Strahan, a contributor to “GMA,” would join full time in September. He will now start appearing more frequently over the summer.

“This makes sense for both shows,” the spokesperson said.

Ripa was greeted with a lengthy standing ovation by the audience at ABC’s studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for Tuesday’s program. She had been absent from the show since it was announced that Strahan will leave to join the network’s “Good Morning America.”

Part of Ripa’s hiatus was a planned vacation, but her unexpected departure turned the breezy chat show into a backstage drama. Ripa told “Live” staffers Friday that she would be back, but Tuesday’s program was the first time she addressed the matter publicly.

“I am fairly certain there are trained professional snipers with tranquilizer darts in case I drift too far off message,” she said in her opening remarks.

Ripa was said to be angry that Disney/ABC executives did not inform her of its plans to move Strahan to “GMA” until shortly before it was made public. Strahan became Ripa’s “Live” co-host in 2012.

“I needed a couple of days to gather my thoughts,” she said. “After 26 years with this company I earned the right. And let’s be honest, I know half of you called in sick to be here and we get each other.”

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Without being specific about her conversations with Disney/ABC management, she said the incident spurred a larger conversation about “communication, consideration and most importantly respect in the workplace.” She said she believes the company supports “Live” going forward.

“Apologies have been made,” said Ripa. “Our parent company has assured me that ‘Live’ is a priority. There is a commitment to the show, and to the people who have worked here and most importantly to you the viewers who have watched us every day for 30 years.”

Ripa, who stood alone on camera during her remarks, said she was “thrilled” for Strahan.

“I couldn’t be and we couldn’t be prouder of you and everything we accomplished together,” she said.

The Strahan move is seen as an effort to revive the ratings of “GMA,” which is a massive revenue generator for the ABC Television Network. The program has fallen behind NBC’s “Today” in the 25-to-54 age group, which is the audience advertisers seek to reach with news programming.

There have been rumors for years that ABC wants to expand “Good Morning America” to a third hour. But “Live,” which airs at 9 a.m. on most of the stations that carry it, including ABC-owned stations, has been seen as an obstacle to such an idea.

“Live” is the second-most-watched syndicated talk show on television, but is nowhere near the cash cow that “GMA” is for Disney/ABC.

Ripa’s contract with Disney/ABC runs through next year. There will be guest co-hosts until a permanent replacement for Strahan is named.

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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