Kathie Lee Gifford calls her replacement ''sassy''
Kelly Ripa, Regis Philbin, ...

Who wants to be a perky talk show host? For the producers of top rated ”Live With Regis,” soap star Kelly Ripa is the final answer. After a six month search, Ripa, 30, will debut as Regis Philbin’s permanent cohort Feb. 12 on the newly renamed ”Live With Regis & Kelly.” ”There’s an honesty that they both have that is very refreshing,” gushes exec producer Michael Gelman on the stars’ chemistry. ”They’re not afraid to kid one another.” Ripa, who’s starred for 10 years as willful heroine Hayley Vaughan Santos on ABC’s ”All My Children,” beat out a slew of contenders for the job. She replaces Philbin’s 15 year foil, Kathie Lee Gifford, who said a long, teary goodbye last July.

”I don’t think there’s any replacing her,” notes Ripa, in a startlingly adoring tone. ”She’s a singer and a dancer, and she’s gorgeous.” Ripa’s on air dancing experience is limited to a stint on ”Dance Party USA” in the ’80s, and she says she’d sing ”only to save the life of my own son.”

A similarly fawning Gifford said in a statement that Ripa ”seems to have just the right balance of sparkle and sass.” The actress, who’ll continue a scaled back schedule on ”AMC,” has a 3 year old, Michael, and another child due in June, with actor husband Mark Consuelos, 29. So should we expect more Cody/ Cassidy style ramblings to accompany our morning lattes? ”I defy you to go on live TV every day for 20 minutes…and not talk about your family,” she says. ”It can’t be done.”

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