Former football player Michael Strahan, right, poses Kelly Ripa on the set of the newly named "Live! with Kelly and Michael" on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP Images)
NEW YORK (AP) — The only worry on Michael Strahan's mind when he made his entrance Tuesday as the new co-host of "Live!": "Don't trip," he summed up after the show.
When Kelly Ripa introduced him, the gap-toothed former football player jogged onto the morning show set and gathered her up in a bear hug, lifting her off her feet.
"When I was hugging Kelly, that's when I was calming down," Strahan explained.
The rest of the hour was clearly a snap for him and for Ripa, who was getting a permanent partner nine months after Regis Philbin retired from the show and after having welcomed Strahan and 58 other guests in the chair beside her.
Taking his seat on Tuesday, the former New York Giant joked that it felt "comfy, like it was molded for my body."
Strahan was relaxed, amiable and playful, and drew "ahhhs" from women in the studio audience when he presented Ripa with a dozen red roses.
"It's so nice to have a co-host literally sweep you off your feet," Ripa told viewers, "and I know that he can bench press me if he wanted to."
Maybe his arrival was fulfilling a prophecy. Ripa played a clip of Strahan's first appearance on the show in 2008, shortly after the Giants had won the Super Bowl. Philbin asked Strahan what he would want to do after retiring from football, and Strahan said that Philbin's job looked pretty good.
"I was joking," Strahan said on Tuesday, "and I'm glad the joke came true."
Strahan's hiring has been an open secret for the past two weeks. His selection was made official a couple of minutes into what, since November, had gone by the stripped-down title "Live! With Kelly" and now rechristened "Live! With Kelly and Michael."
Or rather, "live! with kelly and michael." Eyeing the brand-new all-lowercase logo during a commercial break, the co-hosts pondered whether the first letters of their names would look better capitalized.
During their breezy first "host chat," Strahan amusedly shared from a list of obnoxious pet names for women ("babe" and "sweet cheeks" among them). The pair discussed parenting policies, in particular how much money the Tooth Fairy should award for a lost tooth.
"Homeland" star Claire Danes was the first guest, followed by singer Phillip Phillips.
Then Olympic gold-medal gymnasts Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber each teamed with one of the co-hosts in a challenge on balance beams. Strahan was totally game for the stunt, which called for carrying eggs balanced on a spoon. (The two teams tied with 13 eggs apiece.)
After the broadcast, Strahan downplayed any suggestion the show would be changing much.
"I think you have two people who can laugh at themselves, who can laugh at each other, who have a good time, who get along — and make sure that anyone who watches the show enjoys it," Strahan said. "I think it's the same formula."
The formula was cooked up by Philbin, the original host, nearly 30 years ago. Ripa joined him in 2001.
Executive producer Michael Gelman, who oversaw that transition from Kathie Lee Gifford to Ripa, was asked how Strahan emerged as the favorite in the current competition.
"Chemistry isn't something you can really put your finger on," he said. "But there was something special individually with Michael, and the chemistry was there."
Ripa, declaring that she had had "a little bit of a say" in Strahan's selection, said, "I wear my heart on my sleeve, so it's pretty obvious that I love him. So I was definitely on board."
"It seems like we've been doing it all along," she added.
In return, Strahan said Ripa has "done a great job for 11 or 12 years, and hopefully we'll do it for the next 11 or 12 years."
In the meantime, he will continue as a host of "Fox NFL Sunday," which originates from Los Angeles, where he lives. He will commute to New York to do "Live!"
How will he handle that routine?
"Get on a plane," he cracked. "Coming here during the week and doing this show, it's fun. I don't look at it as if it's a chore."
Before bringing Strahan out, Ripa joked about the lengthy search, advising people to stop sending her resumes.
"I have enjoyed every single solitary person — except for one," she said. "The staff is laughing because they know that's true."
Asked afterward who that one spoilsport had been, she stated with a laugh, "I would never reveal the co-host I did not enjoy being with."
"But I will!" Strahan jumped in.
"He figured it out," said Ripa, offering yet more evidence of their rapport. "He watches the show and he knows my body language."