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NBC’s Big Bet on Megyn Kelly Comes With Big Risks

NBCUniversal will spend millions of dollars each year for the next few in the hopes that Megyn Kelly can succeed in areas in which she’s never been tested: daytime talk and Sunday newsmagazines.

The Comcast-owned company said Tuesday it intended to launch a new daytime program as well as a Sunday newsmagazine to showcase the famous Fox News anchor, whose profile has risen steadily since she launched a primetime program after Bill O’Reilly’s on the well-watched 21st Century Fox cable-news outlet. There’s no question that Kelly’s presence is now outsize, thanks to powerful on-air performances on Fox News’ “Kelly File”; the release of a best-selling memoir, “Settle for More,” in 2016; clashing famously last year with now-President Elect Donald Trump; and also playing a role in the ouster of Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Kelly is expected to join NBC News later this year, after finishing her tenure at Fox News, where her last program is expected to be Friday.

“This move will propel her to superstar status,” said Ira Berger, who supervises ad buying on broadcast and cable for The Richards Group, an independent Dallas ad agency. “This move will broaden her reach beyond the Fox bubble.”

And yet, Kelly’s current halo does not necessarily mean she can also triumph over splintered broadcast-TV audiences and tired formats. Those are hurdles she and NBC will have to leap over in the months to come.

NBC said it intends to place Kelly in a new Monday-through-Friday daytime hour set to launch sometime over the coming year. To accomplish that feat, NBC would have to either take time from the four hours it already devotes to its “Today” morning franchise, which generates hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue; negotiate with affiliates for strong placement of a syndicated  hour; or test something in the early evening, where it distributes “Access Hollywood.” Meanwhile, a Sunday newsmagazine would likely run for a limited cycle, as the network already devotes a good portion of its Sunday lineup to “Sunday Night Football,” one of TV’s most-watched programs.

A spokeswoman for NBC News declined to comment beyond the company’s announcement on Tuesday. NBC declined to make Andrew Lack, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, available for comment. The announcement was said to surprise some NBC News employees.

Success in these new ventures is not guaranteed. Other famous anchors have tried their hand at daytime TV in the recent past, and met with middling success. Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper and Meredith Vieira are among the famous TV-news personalities who tackled daytime talk programs in the last few years. All three lasted just two seasons before ending their respective efforts. There is some speculation that NBC could envision Kelly as the person to spearhead its efforts to launch a rival to ABC’s “The View” or CBS’ “The Talk,” two programs that feature a panel of popular female personalities weighing in on the issues of the day. But there is also talk that Kelly might serve as a means to lure Republican women to its fold in an era when that party controls the House, Senate and White House.

Launching a new, sustainable newsmagazine has also been tricky in recent years, as NBC learned when it debuted “Rock Center” with Brian Williams in 2011. That effort also lasted two seasons before being cancelled due to low ratings. NBC more recently tried “On Assignment,” an effort produced by its “Dateline” staff that relies more heavily on stories of adventure and innovation than on the murder tales viewers have come to expect from the parent show.

Simply put, NBC and Kelly will join forces to counter prevailing viewership trends. More people are getting their headlines from social-media outlets and mobile devices. Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults overall say they get news on social media sites, according to a 2016 study by Pew Research Center. Those figures don’t mean consumers don’t turn to TV for information, but make it clear news aficionados have other places upon which to rely.

To push back, TV is placing more emphasis on strong personalities. At CNN, Don Lemon often strikes people as a non-traditional evening anchor who is more interested in shaking up conversation. Kelly, who has never been shy about asking an impertinent question of a politician, a reality-show star or even a person who could end up being President of the United States, may serve a similar function – in doing so, lending new life to some of TV’s most hidebound formats along the way.

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