NBC’s Megyn Kelly Problem (Column)

FILE - In this May 5,
AP

The network’s vaunted new hire has whiffed her first opportunities to shine. Did NBC make a $17.5m mistake?

It’s still months before Megyn Kelly’s new NBC daytime show is set to premiere, but it already feels like the former Fox News anchor has overstayed her welcome. Only three weeks into her Sunday-night newsmagazine show — a “Dateline” style piece, structured around her interviews with high-profile “gets” — Kelly’s star is dimmer than ever. It’s a far cry from where she was just a year ago.

2016 was a banner year for Kelly: After a wave of flattering media coverage, she led round-the-clock election coverage for Fox News — anchoring one of its highest-rated programs, “The Kelly File,” and shoring up the network’s credibility on women’s issues as it reported on, and sometimes sparred with, then-candidate Donald Trump. If Bill O’Reilly was the face of the network, Kelly — a photogenic former lawyer — was the face of the future. It was Kelly’s complaints that finally ended Roger Ailes’ reign of sexual harassment at the network; an indication of changing times, a changing company, and Kelly’s worth to the network.

Then in January, Kelly left Fox News, and since then whatever high-wattage star power she had has waned considerably. This month she’s been hosting “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly,” an opportunity for theoretically harder-hitting coverage than what she’ll do in the fall when she takes over the network’s 9 a.m. timeslot.

By all measures, her “Sunday Night” effort been a disaster: Her interviews have been either ridiculed or loathed by the rest of the press, and the ratings reflect a distinct lack of interest. To be sure, newsmagazines around one anchor have a high failure rate, even for respected names like Bryant Gumbel, Connie Chung, and Jane Pauley. But Kelly’s problems go beyond ratings. Her June 18 episode, an interview with InfoWars’ Alex Jones, began as a problematic decision and snowballed into a PR nightmare. Kelly couldn’t handle either the interview or its fallout.

Related

Ratings: Megyn Kelly’s Much-Hyped Alex Jones Interview Is a Bust

Even before all of this, there were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Kelly’s upcoming foray in the 9 a.m. timeslot. Daytime television is a notoriously difficult nut to crack — dozens of shows, built around former news anchors and other personalities, have failed to succeed, even when they are helmed by otherwise well-liked personalities. Kelly has never emphasized intimacy or likability in her on-camera persona. Her style is legalistic and cool, with a brass-tacks elegance that can, at best, appear regal.

Compare this to Kelly’s fiercest competitor in the 9 a.m. timeslot: Kelly Ripa, a brash, bubbly personality who manages to be both inclusive and distinctive at the same time. Daytime TV is such an intimate and alchemical landscape that audiences’ most beloved anchors take on a kind of mythical quality — Oprah, Ellen, Katie — who are gossiped about and scrutinized as if they were members of a far-flung family. Ripa, a master of the form, was already, in all likelihood, going to eat Kelly for lunch (or is it breakfast?). Now that Kelly’s reputation on the rocks — and that Ripa has a new telegenic cohost in Ryan Seacrest — it’s hard to imagine Kelly making a dent in Ripa’s audience.

On top of all of this there’s the fact that Kelly has a history of cringeworthy statements about black people — and is about to debut in a timeslot that happens to draw a large African-American female audience. According to Nielsen data for the 2015-16 season, African-American women comprised 23.1% of the total TV audience in the (nearly synchronous) 7 a.m.- 3 p.m. time frame, making them the largest component of the daytime viewership base, ahead of white (16.3%), Hispanic (12.6%) and Asian (7.6%) women.

Given all of this, NBC’s logic in hiring Kelly — for an annual salary, according to industry sources, of $17.5 million — was already murky. Now, “Sunday Night” has called into question Kelly’s capacity to do her job appropriately. The entire rigmarole with Alex Jones was a series of unforced errors: Amateur decision-making, lightweight investigation, and vaguely defined motives. She has floundered in interviews on-camera and made to look either dishonest or unprofessional off-camera. And her essential sense of newsworthiness is oddly awry; after all of the hullabaloo defending her interview of Jones, she couldn’t manage to get the segment to coalesce around a news peg. So what is Megyn Kelly good at?

The answer is a lot more about identity than ability. Kelly’s cachet is that she is a thoughtful conservative woman — a kind of unicorn. Her demeanor carries with it a lot of posh worldliness; she’s tony and she knows it. On Fox News, her maternal concern about this newfangled world aligned her with her peers. But at the same time, her reasonably fair-minded consideration stood out; she offered a veneer of respectability in opposition to the at times crass politicking of its conservative pundits. She was centrist enough that some of the network’s most faithful despised her; her skepticism about Trump further alienated her from the network’s bread-and-butter base. Even colleague Sean Hannity got into a spat with her — a spat later mended, cheekily, on Twitter. But the division between her and her former colleagues was clear — enough that for liberal viewers peering at Fox News in frustration, Kelly became an occasional hero.

But outside of that context — a context which magnified her strengths and talents, because of how different she was from the network that nurtured her — Kelly has to rely not on the power of contrast but on her own resources. And so far, what we’re seeing is disappointing. On NBC, Kelly is didactic without being trustworthy; patronizing without being impressive. Her voiceover suggests doom without really proving it; there’s a scare-mongering side to her reportage. And, most importantly: She’s alienated everyone. At this point, Kelly’s most virulent critique comes from the right — the audience that she’s supposed to be helping deliver to NBC. The network is presumably hoping that centrist or center-right women will eventually tune in.

Perhaps well-heeled paranoia coming from someone who could be in your PTA meeting is not as appealing as it once was. But if Kelly’s move to NBC was both an attempt to cement her brand and a network gambit to draw a certain demographic of viewers, it has failed on both counts. It may be worth going back to the drawing board entirely with Megyn Kelly — to evaluate her strengths not just by what she is or isn’t, but rather by what she can actually do.

Updated: A previous version of this column said that Kelly is a Republican. In fact, she has stated that she is an Independent.  

 

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  1. Mark T says:

    The feature she just did on women in Silicon Valley was actually pretty good. Too bad neither she nor anyone else in network media will touch on the much broader and far more acute issue in tech, namely age discrimination. Web search for the “techtopus” legal action or just go to Pando.com which stands almost alone in covering it (Apple and Google caught red-handed conspiring to hold down programmer pay–gosh no Time mag cover there!) Political discrimination is quite severe as well, ask Brendon Eich or anybody who tries to get a job in SV with any (U.S,) military experience on their resume. (outside of high-dollar personal security for the execs of course).

    BTW has anybody ever investigated sex harassment in show biz?

  2. James Youngblood says:

    article….”Kelly’s cachet is that she is a thoughtful conservative woman”

    Kelly is not a thoughtful conservative woman. She is one of the “nasty women” that Pocahontas Warren proclaimed as the Hillary supporters that would sweep Hillary into the presidency. Nasty women do not necessarily make good TV show hosts as the station is finding out.

  3. Terry Beaton says:

    How about a job standing on the other side of the board from Vanna White. They could exchange catty looks and occasionally pull some hair.

  4. Rachael says:

    I haven’t seen her Sunday night show, but caught her some on fox when she was on. Your criticism is harsh and only sounds like the ramblings of a liberal leftminded purist who doesn’t like that a conservative woman is @ NBC. You’ve jumped the gun & assumed people aren’t going to like her. NBC has gone through the ringer with journalists the last year ever since the Billy Bush fiasco. Why dont you hold on a hot second & wait to see what the 9 am hr will be before judging her with your rude, terrible, comments.

  5. kat0711 says:

    It takes more to be considered a serious journalist than a sporty haircut and covering up your cleavage.

    • Kioki says:

      Considering the ratings for her Sunday night program are near toilet level, only an idiot would expect great things from a daytime show by the same stilted personality. This article was quite fair. You just don’t accept the truth.

      • kat0711 says:

        According to your other comments, it would be a good idea to step back from the keyboard and work on your reading comprehension before you attempt to reply to anyone.

  6. Mike Hunt says:

    Me-Again’s new tv drama name> Miss Steak

  7. Pam Mills ft says:

    I wouldn’t watch Megan Kelly if u paid me. The only reason. I watched her before is because she was on FOX News. Don’t miss her for minute.

  8. Mike Morales says:

    The author misunderstands the right leaning news viewer. Kelly burned her bridge with fans of the current president with her August 2015 debate ambush. She pretended all along to be what Fox News viewers expected. She waited for the perfect moment to audition for one of the alphabet networks and that debate was the platform.
    It worked but now we see she does not possess the chops to deliver. She carries the taint of Fox News and that eliminates the more simpler minds of network news viewers.
    She betrayed the Fox News base and they will never tune her in.
    Before too long she will be like Katie Couric, begging a blog to carry her opinion pieces.

  9. Com ment says:

    Sad times when people feel entitled to lynch you and destroy your life at the first uttered unfortunate sentence or the first mistake made.

    The acerbic criticism and the severe tone of this tv critic seem disproportionate with the facts, more a reflection of her jealousy than a balanced appraisal of a just begun new activity.

    • Kioki says:

      Fragile people generally should avoid careers that call for them to be the voice of contemporary critical analysis on network television.

    • Brenda Kimberlin says:

      This review is absolutely dripping with venom and sexism — “photogenic former lawyer” — really?? Can you get any cattier?

  10. Rob Row says:

    This article uses the usual, sexist, stereotypical descriptions of a woman. Dishonest, untrustworthy not likable etc. I was taken aback when I saw the author was a woman, but this past election, in it’s treatment of Hillary, has shown us women can be as sexist as men.

  11. Barbara Kitzinger says:

    I think Megyn is doing a refreshing job interviewing is on point, questions direct but still coming across as pleasant to her interviewees, I enjoy her style. I wish her luck and would prefer she stay on Sunday nights. Her guests are very interesting and she brings out tough but questions you may want to know

  12. Oracle says:

    This is a well written article on the red meat the “Kelly Files” tossed almost daily. Megyn was only “normal” compared to Hannity and O’Reilly. Her “NOT fair and balanced” interviewing style with people who don’t look or think like her is well documented. I predict NBC will attempt to give her gravitas by often appearing on the Today Show. Once her talk show fails, they will plant her on MSNBC late night in an attempt to recoup their bad investment. Megyn Kelly’s brand is too damaged, and she isn’t smart enough to make conciliatory adjustments. For those who have seen her bias personality in action via Youtube, these tumbling ratings could be considered schadenfreude.

  13. Harold Harvey says:

    Damn black women need to turn the TV off once in a while…

  14. She got outwitted by Alex Jones! Alex Jones got one over on her. Get in your car and drive out in the country…see those brown and white things in the pasture..they’re called cows…Alex Jones isn’t as smart as one of those..yet..he outsmarted Kelly!

  15. Kelly is a smart and capable woman who unfortunately allowed her success to go to her head. She rose to fame by getting hard to get interviews and conducting them intelligently and assertively. Then one day she decided she had arrived…. she started referring to senior government or high ranking military officials, most her seniors by two or three decades by their first name…. then followed the period when her show became more “I, me, myself” and she launched into promoting herself, her husband and their books.

    Her show on Fox, which might once have been headed for the best primetime slot and accompanying rewards, began to lose its impact (if not yet its ratings) and the end was predictable.

    The old Megyn would do as well on NBC as she did on Fox. The question is whether the new Megyn still has the old Megyn’s phone number and can summon her back….. who knows…. but it is bound to be by this assignment that she will ultimately be judged.

  16. SWSfraser says:

    Megyn Kelly… Well, the viewers at Fox feel betrayed and won’t watch her on a “liberal” channel, because they aren’t quite sure what “mainstream” actually means; because their network of choice intentionally slants the news, hard right, to appease their audience and to promote “republican” talking points. I’m not really concerned what they think about mainstream media, or anything else for that matter; I just feel a little sad for them at times, knowing that they are only shouting out slogans they’ve been programmed to say but not really understanding what it means. Like a guy wearing a sexist Hillary t-shirt at a Trump rally yelling, “repeal Obamacare” (but don’t touch my ACA); or “Get rid of that inheritance tax” because that’s really going to help them out. And, since Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Trump and Fox were able to get these people to shout those things, the GOP claims they are just fulfilling their campaign promises (to 19% of the population or approx 1/4 of eligible voters)- yes fulfilling campaign promises that will harm much of trump’s base.
    So, here comes Megyn Kelly– a smart woman who managed to move up at Fox without doing any favors for the boss. However, in my mind I see her (and Greta Van whats-her-name) as Fox refugees- who didn’t escape for their own safety, but perhaps did so because they want to actually report real news without the spin and focusing on information that has little or nothing to do with a story just to make the story fit the right-wing agenda of Fox. Megyn Kelly would have to admit that she slanted stories of the network, for the audience, for ratings or whatever, apologize for slanting the news, and promise to never ever slant the news again but to actually be “fair and balanced”. After that, it would take years for her to gain credibility and she is off to a terrible start by interviewing Alex Jones, who I pray for every time I see those veins popping out of his neck and on his forehead. Okay, perhaps I don’t pray for him, but I do worry I’m going to witness someone having a medical emergency on air. So, if Megyn does an “LGBT” story, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to keep having anti-gay groups that believe in debunked theories and torture on your show to help give a fair and balanced report.

  17. The problem with Megyn Kelly is when she left Fox, most of her viewers felt slighted and betrayed and certainly will NOT follow her to NBC. She seems, whether fair or not, as an opportunist and only caring about herself. When she left Fox, she seemed to show diva like qualities and just left a bad taste in most Fox viewers. I, for one, watched her show on Fox for a long time. When she started going after Trump and then started shopping herself around to the highest bidder, she lost me for good. I haven’t watched 1 second of her on NBC and have no plans to…..I would rather watch a “test pattern” on TV than her any day of the week………

  18. Lando says:

    She’ll have the same problem Comey has…she calls out both sides, so both sides attack. She’ll be logical and fair, and they’ll be insulting and label her. This incredibly unintelligent written column proves the point. She’s not totally on your side, so you attack from the fringes. Disgusting as always.

  19. The Bob says:

    Left wing ideology is based in the lack of thought and the supremacy of emotion. To adopt this ideology requires a stunning lack of understanding of the world and a near total dedication to ignoring evidence provided by events around you. So, for Sonya to call an intelligent conservative women a sort of unicorn highlights exactly how stupid she is.

    • TragikTimes says:

      While I agree, don’t act like the right wing is any better. Once you add in the word wing you take it to a farther extend than a moderate conservative or liberal. And in both cases you end up with extremes that do nothing but divide this great country….

  20. Maven says:

    What an amateur, catty, left-wing dog whistle of an article. I’m no fan of Megyen’s, but this is just silly,.

  21. lulu says:

    Also, Megyn bragged about her clothing. She looks absurd doing a news story in a top that looks like a bathing suit.

  22. lulu says:

    How insulting for you to say that a “thoughtful conservative” is a kind of unicorn. How arrogant and wrong and biased are you! Other than that, Megyn had no chance at NBC. Her FOX fans were loyal to her in a way that no News Magazine viewer could be. Some people never appreciate what they have, and Megyn is one of them.

    • Mike Morales says:

      “A “thoughtful conservative” is a kind of unicorn”. I was going to stop reading the article when I read that bit of idiocy but I wanted to see how the author wrapped up her opinion piece.
      Frankly I don’t think she could keep her job writing for a Hollywood oriented blog if there wasn’t at least one arrow shot at conservatives in every piece.

  23. Apres says:

    They were hiring Kelly to get rid of Matt Lauer. ‘Then stab him in the back as they push him out the door. Guess what? Lauer is looking better and better now that Kelly’s tarnish is shining through . . .

  24. Apres says:

    She says, she’s an Independent but she’s an Independent Republican!

  25. Dennis Rogg says:

    Megyn is the perfect example of selling the news, instead of reporting it.

  26. Something,Something says:

    This is easy to see in retrospect but she flattered herself with dollar signs. Now NBC didn’t do their homework either, coming to a liberal network from a conservative network they should have put her in a position like the “today” show so she could build an audience and people would be able to get used to her. So now Megyn Kelly has lost a lot of luster which is difficult to get back and whoever managed her at NBC should be fired, because this is looking an awful lot like a slow motion train wreck.

  27. bill says:

    This article is the definition of a hatchet job. Ms. Kelly should have known the knives would be out for her–after all, she’s a wildly successful woman who doesn’t genuflect before icons conservative or liberal.

    But the lowest blow here is the accusation of racism–bolstered by a link to a piece by one of the most inflammatory left-wing commentators, Jamelle Bouie. A suggestion to Megyn Kelly (and readers)–ignore this vitriol. It’s a sure sign that you’re doing something right.

  28. Mike says:

    Megyn Dearest simply is not likeable.

  29. Steve Koken says:

    I’m not a Megyn Kelly fan, but the fault lies with NBC not Kelly. They hired a conservative darling in an effort to come off as less liberal in their coverage of political events. By the time they start airing her shows, however, they’ve already moved from liberal to histrionic liberal and now they make her “re-edit” her shows before they even air. So, no liberals want to watch it, no conservatives want to watch it, and the only ones left? Perhaps her family members?

  30. m c says:

    She’s a complete waste. Buh Bye, Megyn.

  31. D Horts says:

    If black women are the largest group of viewers and blacks are only about 13% of the US population, there are a lot of black women not working day jobs.

    • becksanidiot says:

      You just had to make some stereotypical racist/sexist remark didn’t you? Whoever said that a TV couldn’t be on at work?

      • workforlivn says:

        you’re saying black women only work the sort of job so simple they could do it WHILE WATCHING TV? racist

  32. Skeptic says:

    NBC is owned by a monopolistic public utility. Comcast is the sole provider of high-speed internet and cable television in many communities. They are wasting their ratepayers money with this ridiculous, overpaid hire. Megyn is a dumb, racist, incompetent hack. Nobody likes her.

    • Jim Ray says:

      Hey Skeptic: “Megyn is a dumb, racist, incompetent hack. Nobody likes her.” She’s much smarter than you, not racist at all, very competent, and never a hack, unlike all of your vapid liberal heroes. Steve Koken (above) is right on.

  33. pineous pogg says:

    I used to like Megyn when she first started her show on Fox….she was good…..and then Megyn started to like Megyn a little bit too much and it became unwatchable. Victim of her own arrogance.

    • Ann Philipps says:

      For the millions NBC spent wooing and signing Megyn Kelley, I would say they have reaped ten cents on the dollar. A loosing investment by any standard. She has been over paid and over hyped but has under performed and under delivered. NBC saw the glitter not the tarnish, the fairy dust not the fairy tale. Andy Hack has, once again bet all his chips on red and that is where NBC landed “in the red”

  34. Gary says:

    I and most of my friends dislike Megyn Kelly. Not due to conservative vs liberal arguments (Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers and others are likable) It’s not about her going against Trump – it is Megyn’s tactics that revealed who she is: win at all costs. What a certain segment of the Fox audience gleaned of her personality and soul is truly distasteful to them, which is why no matter how many image overhauls her and her consultants execute, there is a substantial group she has permanently alienated. When Megyn tries to “play nice” or “be softer” it is not believed – she has already been pegged. Honestly, I will enjoy watching her fail.

  35. Helen says:

    Megyn has always been overrated; gimmicks bolstered her lack of star power and dulled the obvious: she’s not the brightest bulb in the box.

  36. zed says:

    Poor Megyn. Sold her soul to the devils like so many have before. Megyn you should have stayed with your own, with family . . . These people don’t like you! They seduced you to use you only because you represent a betrayal of those whom they despise. Watch how fast they’ll use you up and throw you away now.

  37. tedp2013 says:

    Thoughtful, conservative woman = unicorn? I think not. There are many; just not in your little bubble.

    • Thank you! They don’t even realize when they are insulting people. So much for “intellectualism.”

      • sca721 says:

        “They don’t even realize when they are insulting people”

        They do – they just don’t care.

        The author of this article knows her core left coast audience – and so she doles out little moral poseur handj*bs throughout the article.

        Remember, this is Hollywood, where it has often been said – “They talk like hippies – and act like the Mafia”.

        The good news is that streaming technology will continue to erode Hollywood’s financial core – more sources of content, fewer media distribution choke-points to milk the oligopoly from, less and less tolerance of insane cable bill cross-subsidies and obscured “sub” fees.

        It is all going away – faster and faster.

        And with it their power – used to such insidious and harmful effect for decades and decades of American life.

        So, soon enough, this author and her audience will be doing their donkey show (heh – literally and figuratively Democrats…) to tinier and tinier crowds.

      • LVTaxman says:

        On the flip side, there are those that wake up every day looking for a way to be insulted or offended.

  38. Sharon says:

    Uninformed writer of this article does not know that it was former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson, not Kelly, who “finally ended Roger Ailes’ reign…” at Fox. This article is NOT journalism.

  39. TBill says:

    Why did you think conservatives would want to watch her? She was marginal for Fox.

  40. Mercer Tyson says:

    Comments here prove that you can’t make it in the “talk” show business or tv show business without preaching bias and leaving open mindedness behind.

  41. Dave Silence says:

    A thoughtful, intelligent writer would be a unicorn at Variety.

  42. Mercer Tyson says:

    I love Kelly. She was my favorite person at FOX. Regardless of what her critics from the left and right claimed, noone got a free pass on her show at FOX. But I am disappointed in “Sunday Night.” Kelly is best at spontaneous, quick thinking, humorous, common sense reaction, with seldom a mistake. In depth stories don’t make use of her talent.

  43. Sir Graves Ghastley says:

    Megyn is an overrated bimbo. The sooner she is fired by NBC, the better will be NBC’s profits and ratings.

  44. Brant in Kansas says:

    I guess that you neglected to point out the most obvious fact regarding Ms. Kelly’s background; that she followed Bill O’Reilly each and every night. arguable the most popular cable personality ever. she’s “tony”? ok……(that is a politically correct way of saying that she is gorgeous) but that’s about where it ends. she is not close to conservative. and has used only her looks and a self promoting fight with Donald Trump from one question in the presidential debates. like her peers both male and female, she lacks economic knowledge nor the basic conservative notions of free markets and individual freedoms. this hiring decision proves once again that the news networks do not understand their audience. but for NBC, she touched all of the bases to prove her bonafides. the networks don’t understand anyone living south of the northern New Jersey border, or west of the city limits.

    • Dan Roth says:

      Unfortunately, you are right. They are clueless and make no effort to even discover the nature of their audience. They would do much better if they figured it out but that would be work.

  45. Brandon Blake says:

    Only a moron with Jedi-like skills would pay 17 million to take a fish out of their little pond of lobotomized dumbfuckery and throw it onto land to see if it could survive.

  46. Bill Jefferson says:

    Wow, that “writing” is just terrible. Leftist media really is running out of talent and money. Good.

  47. Bill Jefferson says:

    “…..respected names like Bryant Gumbel, Connie Chung, and Jane Pauley”

    Har, har, hardy-harhar! Funny stuff, lefties.

    • sca721 says:

      “Bryant Gumbel, Connie Chung, and Jane Pauley”

      All “indispensable stars” of their time, in their own cultivated MSM oligopoly hotboxes…all now couldn’t get 5 AM desk duty on “The Villages” in-house cable network.

  48. Dems Lose Again says:

    They can’t stop losing

  49. chuckgibson2013 says:

    Good Riddance!

  50. I think Megan Kelly is simply positioning herself to file a Sexual Harrasment suit against NBC!

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