Megyn Kelly is best known as the hard-edged news anchor who wasn’t afraid to push back on conservative orthodoxy at Fox News Channel. Her new employer, NBC Universal, is trying to trot out a softer side.
As NBC prepares to launch a new morning show led by the much-scrutinized Kelly, it has unleashed a promotional salvo that speaks less about her news chops and instead tries to unveil other facets of her personality. One recent promo shows Kelly shaking hands with people in a supermarket and at a baseball stadium, and suggests her program, “Megyn Kelly Today,” is “not about us versus them. It’s about us for everyone.” She’s sharing space on an NBCU billboard in Times Square that depicts her offering up a hot cup of coffee. In a video posted on her new show’s Twitter feed, she reveals a fondness for “Overboard,” the 1987 comedy featuring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.
NBC is placing a big bet on Kelly, whose national profile has broadened thanks to a rise at Fox News, a public tangle with President Donald Trump early in the election cycle and her recent move to NBC. NBCU is said to be paying her around $17 million a year. To form a bond with morning-show viewers, however, NBC will have to burnish “the kind of things that aren’t noticeable enough to estrange her existing fans, but will make a newer potential audience go ‘Huh. Who knew she was like that?’” says Rachel Weingarten, a brand strategist.
The new program, whose light-blue logo combines Kelly’s name with part of the “rainbow” that is part of the markings of NBC’s “Today” franchise, is slated to launch on Monday. But branding experts suggested the task of turning up the lighter aspects of Kelly’s personality won’t end after the first broadcast.
“She’s more of a hard-edged newsperson than a chit-chattering tell-me-about-your-book” type, says Allen Adamson of Brand Simple Consulting. NBC faces a task similar to the one CBS grappled with when it hired Katie Couric, long known for her convivial morning-show personality and tried to use it to shake up the format of the more serious “CBS Evening News” between 2006 and 2011, says Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. “Kelly is known as the smart and aggressive news interviewer and now she is going to be trying to appeal to a different kind of audience in a calmer, more featurish setting,” he says.
Kelly will be going toe-to-toe with “Live,” the syndicated powerhouse that Disney/ABC Television Group has enhanced by adding Ryan Seacrest as Kelly Ripa’s co-host. Kelly’s program will be considered part of the overall “Today” franchise – it’s sandwiched between two hours featuring Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie and a 10 a.m. show led by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb – and is using that to assuage marketers who might fret over supporting an unproven entry in the schedule. The launch comes after a mixed performance on a Sunday-night newsmagazine that raised some hackles, thanks to an interview with controversial web provocateur Alex Jones.
NBC hasn’t overplayed expectations for its new efforts involving Kelly. “There are very few news organizations adding programs right now. We have a complete reset of the 9 a.m. hour coming with Megyn, and a new offering on Sunday night at 7 p.m.,” NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack told NBC affiliates at a meeting in May. “It’s not going to be perfect on Day One, and we’re not going to be in first place on Day Two – but I’d rather be holding our cards than anyone else’s.”
The company has made the launch of her program a promotional priority in recent weeks. NBCUniversal has aired promos during “Sunday Night Football”; “NBC Nightly News”; and “America’s Got Talent.” The show is being touted in bottom-of-the-screen “snipes” during various programs. In addition to Times Square, Kelly is also being featured on a billboard out on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and on signs at NBCU’s theme parks.
In recent weeks, Kelly has also followed a broadcast-network tradition of pressing the flesh at various network affiliates. It’s a time-honored practice taken up by most TV personalities taking on a big job, whether they be late-night comedians or daytime talk leaders, because the stations can do a lot to connect local viewers to a national program. Pictures on social-media pages for the new Kelly program show her hosting a coffee mug at Orlando’s WESH, meeting staffers at KXAS in Fort Worth, and visiting WRAL in Raleigh. She also found time to take in a Durham Bulls game.
And she’s making the rounds of entertainment-focused talk shows. She appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ syndicated program on Tuesday, outfitted in a Sumo-wrestler fat suit. “This does not feel like an Edward R. Murrow moment,” she told the host, who put her through a talk-show obstacle course, including cooking tips, exercise, dancing and shaking the hands of audience members. On Thursday night, she’s scheduled to visit Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show.
Kelly’s transformation will likely continue, and after her program debuts, more of it will be in the public eye. Weingarten, the brand strategist, expects her to embrace a wardrobe with softer edges and less bold designs, and wonders if focus groups could be employed as her program gets off the ground. “As she hopes to evolve,” she said, “the way we see her is changed.”