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Where the locker room and the gossipy lunch table meet

Ah, the suspense. It’s killing me.

Now that she has announced she will return Tuesday from her self-imposed absence to “Live with Kelly and Michael,” will Kelly Ripa be chirping brightly when Bellamy Young comes to visit  to plug the latest doings on "Scandal"? Will Ripa be her usual sardonic pixie self?

For that matter, as long as we’re on unhappy-diva patrol, another question worth asking about ABC’s broadcast kingdom is: Will Stana Katic stick to her decision to leave Nathan Fillion and “Castle,” where her co-star was reportedly unpleasant enough, at times, to drive her to tears?

And if she does, what will ABC do about it?

Ripa's tantrum came after Michael Strahan announced that in September he would leave “Live with Kelly and Michael” to take up residence on “Good Morning, America” where the ratings haven’t been all that robust of late and where a little testosterone merriment might do a world of good. (George Stephanopoulos certainly has a history of down and dirty competition. It’s just that no one’s ever going to tap him to do a Cialis or Miller Beer commercial.)

Strahan is close to unique in morning TV. He’s 6-feet-4 and a half inches tall and one of the all-time sackmasters of the NFL. He’s not a guy that NFL quarterbacks wanted to see smirking and getting frisky on the other side of the line of scrimmage. That sort of thing might be a good indication that as soon as the ball was hiked, that quarterback might see Strahan’s gap-toothed grin 4 inches away from his nose, after he’d been flattened by him in his own backfield.

Strahan’s ability to stand apart in the female-centric world of morning TV is simple: His macho cred has been permanently established. But he’s perfectly suited to the TV chatterbox world, where the biggest talent is being able to talk to those at home at that hour of the day.

“Good Morning, America” is one of TV’s biggest franchises. Money by the ton is involved. It needs to take precedence. ABC wants him there full-time. The qualities he has are what’s missing. He’s aggressively and identifiably male but also able to function perfectly while up to his large clavicles in dish and the domestic details of life that morning TV loves.

That was the trouble with “Live With Kelly and Michael” the minute he was snatched to replace Regis Philbin on the show. It was inspired casting, just as it was an inspired career move for the football gladiator to do the show next to the 5-foot-1-inch Ripa. They could pretend all they wanted that the mighty mite Ripa was the more valuable property. And her reported $20 million salary kind of proved the point.

But from the minute he sat down next to her, she wasn’t upwardly mobile; he was. He’s the one with about 25 kinds of live potential anywhere you plug him in – a Sunday football towel-snapping show, a morning coffee-klatch or, most importantly, “GMA.”

A truism few consider is that the locker room world of boundary-bashing chatter and gossip in professional sports and the lunchroom dish world of morning TV aren’t far apart. Male locker rooms are full of gossip, jokes and trash talk. So are school and office lunch tables full of women.

It’s not all that weird to find an inhabitant of one useful at another. Finding a man who’s brazen enough to do both publicly is another matter. That’s why Strahan was always the upwardly mobile one.

It was a similar problem to the one Katic had on “Castle.” Her job was to be slim, leggy, gorgeous and almost unfailingly self-possessed as the Woman In Charge. Fillion’s job was to be mercurial, funny, emotional and self-absorbed. The very set-up of “Castle” announced to the world that Fillion was the experienced and versatile acting talent and Katic was the role-player.

So the basic premise of it practically guaranteed that any equality between the stars would always be under siege. It was another Wounded Diva story waiting to happen.

What is traditionally true about television is that the biggest divas – the most oppressive and damaging egomaniacs – are the off-screen executives making the decisions which bruise tender egos on a daily basis. It is almost universally true that the biggest and most envious divas are the ones most eager to slap the epithet on “talent” (as they call those in front of the camera.)

To be honest, I’m not a morning TV devotee and I’ve never been a Ripa fan.

Which is probably why I found it delightful when Erin Andrews proved to be an ideal substitute for her for the remainder of the week while she sat it out in a blue funk.

Andrews just won a lawsuit against a hotel chain in connection with a pervert who took nude pictures of her in an adjoining room and put them online. She’s the female equivalent of Strahan – or GMA’s Robin Roberts: equally comfortable talking to jocks or being a hostess on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Sitting next to Strahan, she proved to be a gifted, warts-and-all chatterbox. She complained about her unibrow, her nose hairs, her blackheads, her mustache, her post-nasal drip and her too-tight dress.

I thought Andrews was great doing the gig – maybe even good enough to pull in a $20 million salary someday.

Meanwhile, Strahan continued to show off how loose and comfortable for daytime he is.

When Andrews started telling us how much she liked to sing Cher songs at the top of her lungs, Strahan got right into the spirit with her. The two of them then launched into a loud duet rendition of a mutual pop favorite – Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach.”

You wouldn’t see George Stephanopoulos doing that.


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