Thanks to her colorful tangles with Donald Trump on the campaign trail, a best-selling book and a popular primetime perch on Fox News Channel, many people no doubt believe they’ve seen Megyn Kelly do it all. She begs to differ.
“I don’t think you have seen me do, really, anything like this before,” says Kelly during a recent telephone interview.
Many eyes will be on Kelly for a variety of reasons starting this Sunday, when she anchors the debut of “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” a new newsmagazine that will air directly opposite CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Some people will have other reasons to watch: Advertisers will be checking to see how she fares in communicating to a more general audience than watched her on Fox News Channel. Others will be scanning the screen to guess how she might fare this fall when she launches a new 9 a.m. program that will in many markets vie directly with ABC’s syndicated “Live…,” hosted by the powerhouse duo of Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest. Others may simply want to check her out in a new setting. Kelly joined NBC News earlier this year after working for Fox News Channel for more than a decade.
Kelly says she is eager for the chance to use different newsgathering muscles than she could while hosting “The Kelly File” on Fox News. “This is long-form journalism. This is going to have big interviews and investigations, all with some heart and humility,” she says of the Sunday show. “When I was on Fox News, on cable, you really had to get up and down on the news. There’s not a lot of time for romance,” she adds. “I have more resources, which has allowed me to do different things.”
This Sunday, viewers will certainly see something worth talking about: Kelly in some sort of conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The anchor is this week scheduled to moderate a session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that includes the Russian leader. Whether she gets him alone for a few words remains to be seen, but her time on stage with him could show up on her program’s debut. Also on tap: Viewers can see Harry Smith travel to Kenya with Faye Cuevas, a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force reserve trying to stop elephant poachers in Africa with techniques she learned as an intelligence officer in the Middle East.
NBC News executives play down the idea of competing with CBS’ familiar Sunday-news stopwatch – for now. “We’re not putting ourselves in that category,” says David Corvo, the senior executive producer of NBC’s “Dateline,” who will oversee Kelly’s program along with executive producer Liz Cole. “We hope that over time we will find our own voice and we hope the audience will talk about it at home.”
NBC has pitched the show to advertisers as a chance to get a fresh take on the Sunday TV newsmagazines, and a chance to reach a different audience for the format, according to a person familiar with the matter. Marketers have been told the program will feature hard-hitting material, but will also focus on uplifting themes.
Correspondents will have to go where the story leads them, says Corvo, but “what we are going to do is make sure that many of our stories – where it’s natural – have a heart, have some humanity.” Other NBC News reporters expected to surface on the show are Keith Morrison Josh Mankiewicz, Cynthia McFadden, Craig Melvin, Jacob Soboroff, Kate Snow and the aforementioned Smith.
One media buyer believes the new program will have to work initially to snare viewers. “I believe it will start low and build audience over time,” says Ira Berger, who oversees TV buying at The Richards Group, an independent Dallas agency. “On CBS, football overruns into ‘60 Minutes’ is an ingrained habit that will hard to break.”
This isn’t the first time NBC News has tried to add a companion to its long-running “Dateline.” NBC debuted “Rock Center” with Brian Williams in 2011, an effort that lasted two seasons before being cancelled due to low ratings. NBC more recently tried “On Assignment,” produced by its “Dateline” staff, which relied more heavily on stories of adventure and innovation than on the murder tales viewers have come to expect from the older show.
Part of the allure of the Sunday program is seeking Kelly test herself in new kinds of segments, said Cole. Each show is expected to include three main features, with Kelly as the reporter in one. “Sunday Night” will air over the summer, then return after NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and Winter Olympics coverage run their course. “She can be serious, but she can have funny moments,” said Cole. “She’s really versatile.”
Kelly has no disparaging word for her CBS counterpart – but she isn’t shying away from confrontation either. “There is no question ’60 Minutes’ is iconic, but we are not trying to be ’60 Minutes.’ We are going to do something a little different from ’60 Minutes,’ with all due respect to them,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a little more cutting edge.” Viewers can decide how sharp Kelly and her new team are this Sunday night.