Watching onetime New York Giants star Michael Strahan bound through the studio doors and envelop string bean co-host Kelly Ripa in TV's longest bear hug Tuesday, I felt a sense of barriers broken.
Not just for athletes doing the TV thing. Though it is amazing to see, just a few years after a relentlessly smug Tiki Barber saw his effort to join the Today show crew dashed by his own unease on camera and personal foibles, that Barber's onetime Giants teammate would vault into one of the most sought-after co-hosting gigs in television.
What was gratifying for this longtime TV critic Tuesday was to see a black man so unlike the smoothies who normally populate daytime TV talk named the permanent co-host of Live with Kelly and Michael.
On the surface, Strahan seems perhaps the most unusual of left-field choices. He's big, gap-toothed and famous for crushing quarterbacks like most daytime TV hosts crush segments on teen mothers. And he is a strong African-American male in a genre where not many are found.
TV hosts are often cast as some sort of extended, televised family, with the top anchors seen as the mother and father figures, leading a crew of amusingly oddball "siblings."
Often, the success or failure of any team is attributed to how readily the audience accepts a certain team as a believable, acceptable image of family.
So what then to make of Strahan and Ripa, daytime TV's newest on-screen couple? Producers passed up casting Ripa's real-life husband as her co-host — likely because that note would hit too close to home — opting instead for a charismatic TV presence few expected.
To see the dynamic they're replacing, just take a look at Ripa and former co-host Regis Philbin's ads for TD Bank, where Philbin comes off as the slightly befuddled, older guy with a hot trophy wife — a dynamic they shared on the syndicated daytime talk show for 11 years.
Now, producers at Live are betting their audience can accept a new dynamic: younger, more contemporary and more diverse — just like the world awaiting viewers once they turn off their TV sets. (It's not a totally unexpected choice; Strahan has co-hosted the show some 20 times over the past two years, according to the Washington Post.)
Much as I love Philbin and hated to see how the show edged him off the hosting gig he made into a TV institution, I'm also excited by this new team up and everything it says about how far we've all come as a TV audience and a society.
Who knew a daytime talk show could mean so much?