Before Ryan Seacrest was named as Kelly Ripa’s new co-host on Live last year, Jerry O’Connell filled in from time to time. On March 16, Kelly and Jerry came together again when she appeared as a guest on The Wendy Williams Show, which Jerry was hosting while host Wendy Williams was out on medical leave. As they talked about everything from sexy shoes to family parties to reality TV during an energetic 14-minute segment together, it was clear they were having a blast. “You,” Kelly told Jerry matter-of-factly, “are killing it.”

Now Kelly wants Jerry back. In February, Ryan’s former stylist at E!, Suzie Hardy, claimed he sexually harassed her when they worked together from 2007 to 2013. Ryan, 43, has denied the charges, and Kelly, 47, believes he’s innocent. But she feels embarrassed, an insider tells Life & Style — in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now — that she was caught off guard by the allegations and is unhappy that Live is now facing unexpected scrutiny. “This is the last thing in the world Kelly thought would happen,” explains the insider. “That’s why she’s now talking to Jerry again and weighing a plan to replace Ryan with him. It was a tight race and Jerry was so close to getting the gig before Ryan was hired. In hindsight, Jerry would have been a great choice. Kelly and execs at ABC are kicking themselves.”

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Kelly and Jerry on Live. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Jerry is the whole package. Married for a decade to Rebecca Romijn, the mother of his nine-year-old twin daughters, he comes with a squeaky-clean image and built-in appeal. “Jerry’s kind of like the boy who got away from Live — he’s fun, quirky and would be a lot less expensive than Ryan,” says the insider. And unlike the American Idol host, Jerry, 44, “has nothing but time to give to the production, a relative dream in TV,” explains a source. “He’s also a close friend of Kelly’s, and they have great on-screen chemistry.”

Even before the scandal, Ryan wasn’t the slam-dunk success many expected him to be. Ratings have been flat at around three million viewers, roughly a million less than when Michael Strahan co-hosted. “That’s not what they had in mind when they brought Ryan in and offered him a truckload of cash,” notes the source. And Kelly has long been concerned that between Ryan’s Idol gig, radio-hosting duties, and many other commitments, “he’s just spread too thin,” adds the insider. “Ryan said his other projects wouldn’t interfere, but they seem to be taking a toll.”

Jerry would take the job in a heartbeat. “Kelly’s already spoken to him about relocating from LA to New York for part of the year,” the source says, and he’s more than willing to do it. “Jerry’s just waiting in the wings. He wanted to be Kelly’s co-host so badly,” says the insider. Though Ryan isn’t ready to step down, adds the source, “if Live With Kelly and Ryan continues to disappoint ratings-wise during May sweeps, Kelly will speak to show executives about alternative co-hosts.” Then she’ll sit down with Ryan. “She thinks she can convince him,” the source says, “that his heart and soul aren’t in it and that it would be best for him — and the show — if he were to step aside.”

For more on Kelly and Ryan, pick up the latest issue of Life & Style, on newsstands now!