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Why it's time for Kelly Ripa to have a female co-host

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Who will replace Michael Strahan when he leaves Live! With Kelly and Michael to join Good Morning America? Here’s a list of names that are already being suggested online: Anderson Cooper. Neil Patrick Harris. Jeff Probst. Ryan Seacrest. I could go on, but I imagine that the candidates won’t look too different from the lineup in late-night: they’re a bunch of guys who look good in suits. And that’s fine — I’m a fan of guys who look good in suits! But you know what Live! really needs in that co-host spot? A magical centaur.

That is to say, a woman. You know, in the same way that Samantha Bee is a magical centaur: as a woman in late-night, she’s a rare beast, which was probably why she posted this amazing image on Twitter. Granted, women aren’t quite so scarce on the morning show circuit. We have our pinot-guzzling national treasures, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, on the fourth hour of Today. But the idea of having two women carry Live! still somehow seems improbable, considering the show’s history. It owes its whole brand to the screwball-romance chemistry of its hosts: first, Regis Philbin and Gifford, then Philbin and Ripa, and finally, Ripa and Strahan. Whether this chemistry was forced or genuine (Ripa and Strahan enter the show holding hands on a daily basis), it has always felt old-fashioned, as if we’re supposed to imagine that the hosts are an old married couple, rather than just two professional people who may or may not have contract disputes and other problems behind the scenes.

And, given the gender dynamics, there had to be tensions. Before Strahan came aboard, Live! had a certain paternalistic tone, with Philbin always playing the straight man to his kooky lady sidekick. Ripa and Philbin reportedly haven’t spoken to each other since he left the show. When Jennifer Lawrence wrote her now-famous essay about why women make less money than men in Hollywood, Gifford discussed her own experience with sexism in the industry, admitting that she had to fight to have her name added to Live!‘s title alongside Philbin’s. It’s telling that the last time Live! searched for a new co-host for Ripa, they grouped guest co-hosts like Kim Kardashian and Kristin Chenoweth into a “female co-host week” — as if male co-hosts were the default.

Why should that always be the first option? If Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need a man to make the perfect duo. There are so many possibilities for who could replace Strahan. Around EW, I’ve heard people suggesting Kelly Osbourne, Zendaya, and Audra MacDonald. My personal vote goes to a wild card: Gabourey Sidibe. She’s already the world’s most charming talk-show guest — Conan O’Brien once called her “the greatest guest ever” — so why not let her share the stage with Ripa? Whoever ends up on that spot, let’s find someone who can combat the industry’s myth of scarcity. Fey wrote about this in Bossypants: we’re always told that there aren’t enough jobs to go around, so there’s only space for one woman to succeed in a scene, or a department, or a company. It’s a system that pits women against one another, fighting for that one last space. So why not make room for one more?

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