After decades on the air, the popular syndicated talk show is in a tailspin following Strahan’s exit announcement, a source tells PEOPLE. The former NFL player has hosted Live! with Kelly Ripa since 2012.
“My guess is they’re trying to bolster Good Morning America,” the source says of Strahan’s move to the ABC morning show. “The show has been in a week-to-week battle with Today – one week GMA is up, the next Today is. But we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars.”
A network source confirms the motivation behind Strahan’s move, saying, “GMA has been in freefall – their show has been number one for four years, and GMA was freaking out because Today is getting better and getting younger fans, and therefore they moved Michael because they are trying to close the gap with a younger demographic.”
Ripa was absent from Wednesday’s episode of Live! following her co-host’s departure news, with a source telling PEOPLE that producers “don’t know yet when she’ll be back.” Another insider told PEOPLE that the star was “completely blindsided” by Strahan’s plan to transition to GMA.
“Now, Live!, because it’s syndicated, also brings in hundreds of millions, so this is a huge risk,” the first source told PEOPLE. “This was bigger than just Michael wanting to do more, because of the money involved. This would have been a company decision.”
The network source echoes, “It’s a corporate decision. And that came from the top people and the president of ABC, and Kelly is probably enraged because she gave him a shot and he ran with it.”
The source notes that despite Live! bringing in big dollars, Ripa, 45, isn’t wrong to think that ABC might be ready to move on from the show: “Company executives have wanted to extend GMA to a third hour for years – fixated on it, really.”
Though a rep for Live! told PEOPLE of Ripa’s absence on Wednesday that she simply “had the day off,” one insider told PEOPLE Ripa is “refusing to come back” to the show this week – and possibly longer.
For his part, Strahan, 44, warmly thanked his co-host her for welcoming him on the show.
“She’s just been an amazing influence on me and this has truly changed my life to be here with her,” Strahan told viewers. “And I know that the show will continue to be strong and great because of Kelly … and the staff here because everybody here is so talented,” he added. “This show has not been around for over 30 years by mistake.”
Live! With Kelly and Michael airs weekdays (9 a.m. ET) on ABC.