It's hard to imagine anyone more different from Regis Philbin than Michael Strahan, the hulking, gap-toothed, 40-year-old former defensive end for the New York Giants.
But after months of speculation and a rotating cast of temporary "Live!" guest hosts, Strahan has emerged as the clear favorite to fill the void left by the 80-year-old Philbin when he retired last November from the morning show. Strahan would become the co-host with Kelly Ripa.
On Monday, ABC-Disney Domestic Television, producers of the syndicated talk show, announced that a permanent replacement had finally been selected and would be unveiled live on the air Sept. 4. According to multiple reports, Strahan landed the gig, though neither the network nor his representation would confirm it as of Wednesday afternoon.
Strahan is already familiar to millions of television viewers from his work on Fox's popular pregame show, "Fox NFL Sunday," where he's expected to continue as an analyst. He's also endeared himself to "Live!" viewers through multiple guest-hosting stints over the years. The producers of "Live!" are clearly hoping that the affable Strahan's appeal will crossover from a largely male audience to a largely female one.
Hiring Strahan is a smart move, says Bill Carroll, a television analyst at Katz Television Group. "I think the biggest mistake they could have made was trying to replace Regis," he says. While Strahan shares Philbin's willingness to get silly he also has the potential to bring new viewers to "Live!"
Just as Ripa attracted younger viewers and soap opera fans, "Strahan brings a strong male presence to the show," Carroll said.
In the months since Philbin's departure, which drew a record 9.45 million viewers to the show, producers have tried out 59 temporary guest hosts, including "Saturday Night Live" head writer Seth Meyers and former boy band member Nick Lachey. Though some predicted Philbin's retirement would doom the show, ratings have held steady at an average of 3.6 million daily viewers.
Since his retirement from professional football in 2007, Strahan has been steadily building a television resume, pitching products like Right Guard and Vaseline in gently self-deprecating commercials, hosting shows for the DIY Network and Spike TV, and even starring in a short-lived sitcom, "Brothers," in 2009.
As one of five analysts on "Fox NFL Sunday," Strahan has become a popular fixture on the pre- and post-game show.
"Michael Strahan is the one that everyone actually likes, and that's nearly impossible to do. That show exists as something to yell at before games," explains Will Leith, contributing editor at New York Magazine. "Strahan's a very likable presence on a program that has very few likable presences."
Analysts note that when Ripa was hired to replace Kathie Lee Gifford back in 2001, she was anything but an obvious choice. Until then, she was best known for her work as an actress on "All My Children."
For three seasons, Ripa also juggled her "Live!" duties with a role on the ABC sitcom, "Hope & Faith."