She's been dogged by reports that she may stay away from work longer than anticipated

By Lynette Rice
Updated April 23, 2016 at 02:31 PM EDT
Ida Mae Astute

Live! With Kelly

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Kelly Ripa will be back.

Amid growing speculation that she may stay away from Live! longer than expected, EW confirmed the popular host reached out to the show’s staff late Friday to say she will return on Tuesday from what was described as a “previously scheduled vacation.”

“I wanted to thank you all for giving me the time to process this new information,” Ripa wrote in an email to Live! staffers. “Your kindness, support, and love has overwhelmed me. We are a family and I look forward to seeing you all on Tuesday morning.”

Ripa hasn’t been at work since Tuesday, when she was reportedly “blindsided” by the news that co-host Michael Strahan was joining Good Morning America full-time in September. Multiple press reports revealed that Ripa and the show’s executive producer Michael Gelman learned about the reshuffle moments before the news was officially announced.

ABC’s decision to move Strahan from the syndicated show and onto the network full time refueled speculation that Ben Sherwood — the Disney-ABC TV Group President — is still hoping to expand GMA to three hours, something he’s wanted to accomplish since running ABC News from 2010-15. Clearly, the network believes that Strahan could be its golden goose: though he’s only been featured twice a week on GMA since 2014, he often appears in the show’s promos and also helped with ABC’s red carpet coverage of the Oscars this year.

“If I’m Ben Sherwood and the folks at GMA, I would want Michael Strahan in a heartbeat,” says Katz TV Group’s Bill Carroll, who advises TV stations about programming. “I’m sure they have already done a bunch of focus group testing on what he would mean to the show. They have been laying the groundwork for this. It was inevitable that he was in line.”

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GMA is an important money-maker for ABC; Kantar Media, a research firm, reports that the morning news show generated more than $400 million in ad revenue last year. But Live! is just as valuable to the Mouse House. Not only does it rank as the second most-watched syndicated talk show behind Dr. Phil, it pulls in a reported $80 million a year in license fees and ad revenue. It even beats the third hour of Today in viewers and women 25-54, according to Nielsen numbers. As long as Live! is profitable, ABC could have a tough time convincing its affiliates to give up a syndicated talk show they licensed through 2020 to make way for a longer GMA. (Ripa’s latest contract, in contrast, expires next year).

“Most of the stations that have the show have had it since it was Regis and Kathie Lee,” Carroll said. “They’ve been through two transitions already. Obviously they would prefer not to go through another transition. The only saving grace for everyone is that Michael Gelman is still there and he’s made two good choices in the past. You have to believe he will probably do the same again. But unlike the other time [when Philbin left] and everyone seemed to be relatively on board, Kelly doesn’t seem to be a happy camper. I’m sure that’s got to complicate things. And I’m sure Gelman is not very happy, either.”

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