Kelly Ripa Talked About Working Out Of A Janitor’s Closet And Sharing A Bathroom With The Audience During Her Early Days At “Live!”
Kelly Ripa covers the latest issue of Variety, and in the interview she talks about the epic highs and lows of her 22 years hosting Live! 52-year-old Kelly says that when co-host Ryan Seacrest decided to leave the show, she was nervous about her job. Ryan and her husband/future co-host, Mark Consuelos, assured her she’d be fine, but she told them she still had “a little PTSD” based on how ABC executives had treated her in the past. Kelly tells Variety that when she first started at Live!, ABC wouldn’t let her have an office. They stuck her in an empty janitor’s closet! They also wouldn’t give her a private bathroom. She had to line up with the studio audience to use the public toilet, even when she was pregnant. Variety describes her treatment as outrageously sexist. Kelly says that, at the time, she didn’t realize how bad her situation was, and her ignorance was her superpower. Huh. I thought her superpower was her freakishly short arms.
“It was very tough,” Ripa says about her rocky times on the show. “Had I known how difficult it would have been, I don’t know that I would have gone for it. I just think my ignorance in that situation wound up being my blessing and my superpower. I did not have an easy time.”
Kelly says ABC wouldn’t give her a permanent backstage office for years. It wasn’t until after the third season that they’d even let her squat in an empty janitor’s closet:
“It was the strangest experience I’ve ever had in my life. I was told that I couldn’t have an office,” she says. “It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially because there were empty offices that I could have easily occupied.”
Ripa says that whenever she asked about those offices, she was told they were being reserved for executives visiting from the West Coast. “It was after my fourth year,” she says, “that they finally cleaned out the closet and put a desk in there for me. And so I was working in the janitor’s closet with a desk so that I could have a place to put things.”
That’s… bizarre. What did ABC think Kelly would do if she got an office? And don’t say “have ludicrous FaceTime sex with Mark Consuelos”! FaceTime didn’t exist 22 years ago. They were also against Kelly having her own toilet. Regis Philbin had his own private bathroom, but Kelly had to slum it with the civilians:
“Picture this,” Ripa says. “We have a studio audience — like 250 people! — and I have to queue up. Particularly when I was pregnant, it was extraordinarily exhausting to have to wait in line. I have to host the show, and I’m still waiting in line to use the bathroom. It just seemed, you know, a very needlessly difficult situation.” What did tourists think of having to stand in line to pee with Kelly Ripa? “Yeah,” she says, taking a beat. “They couldn’t believe it either.”
Kelly says that, after Regis Philbin left, she assumed she’d get promoted from the janitor’s closet and get Regis’ office. But ABC fought her on it. Eventually, she just moved in on her own:
“They said, ‘Oh, no, we’re saving that.’ And I said, ‘Saving it for what?’ And they go, ‘Well, for when the new guy comes.’ And I looked at them, and I said, ‘I am the new guy,’” Ripa recalls. “I just moved my things. I forced my way into the office because I couldn’t understand how I would still be in the janitor’s closet and somebody new would come in and get the office.
“Initially, I thought this is just what happens, and they don’t have to fill me in because I’ve only been here 10 years. I’m still the new girl. But then, when I was the more senior on-air person, it was like watching the same movie all over again: All of those offices that were not available to me were suddenly made available, with walls knocked down to make them twice as big. It was fascinating for me to watch — the need to make the new guy comfortable and respected, but I couldn’t use those offices. I had to use the broom closet.”
Kelly points out that this type of treatment of women wasn’t unusual back then, and “it’s not any one person’s fault.” She also says she doesn’t blame her male co-hosts for not standing up for her:
“I don’t blame the fellas — they were just doing what they had been told, or what they were instructed to do, or what they thought they deserved. Having said that, I go out of my way to protect the people I’m working with at any and all costs, even if it means that I am not as popular.”
Kelly has talked a lot about her past troubles with ABC. See: execs keeping her in the dark about Regis Philbin and Michael Strahan’s departures and the fact that she wasn’t given paid vacation time, maternity leave, or a wardrobe budget the first few years she worked there. She tells Variety that she only began to receive what she considered fair pay when her bosses knew her contract was up and they realized she could quit:
“I don’t think they wanted to pay me,” Ripa says. “I think they had to pay me. I was trying to walk out the door and close it behind me. And I think they really figured out rapidly that they had screwed up in a major way, and it was not a good look. I think that was really the impetus behind paying me fairly. They had no choice.”
Kelly says she only started receiving the respect she deserved when Debra O’Connell, president of networks for Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, was brought in to oversee Live! She says the more women put in power, the more willing the top dogs are willing to listen and support her. OK, but where does Gelman factor into all of this? Was he an ABC misogynist? Unhelpful bystander? Or loud and proud male feminist? We need the Gelman low-down, Kel!!