The departure of Megyn Kelly from NBC’s 9 a.m. “Today” timeslot marked a setback for the anchor as well as the network paying her millions of dollars to host. But the split appears to be helping the morning franchise overall.
Since Kelly’s exit from the third hour of “Today,” viewership in the key demographic favored by advertisers in that time period is up around 10%, according to Nielsen. And in each of the last three weeks, overall audience for the flagship first two hours of the NBC A.M. mainstay has been larger than that for its main rival, ABC’s “Good Morning America” – a testament to some of the big breaking news stories that have recently gripped the nation, including a recent shooting tragedy in Pittsburgh. NBC canceled “Megyn Kelly Today” on October 26, two days after comments she made about wearing blackface and amid talks the two sides were having about finding her a new role at NBC News. Kelly and NBCUniversal continue to negotiate terms of her departure, according to people familiar with the matter.
The question for NBC will be whether the surge will hold, or fall back to more typical levels. “GMA” usually nabs the biggest morning-news audience overall, while “Today” takes the lead in the measure that matters more, the viewers between 25 and 54 who are coveted most by advertisers in news programming.
In its last week on air, “Megyn Kelly Today” captured 675,000 viewers between 25 and 54, according to Nielsen, and approximately 2.52 million viewers overall. Last week, the third hour of “Today” snared 741,000 viewers between 25 and 54 and more than 2.63 million viewers overall, representing jumps of about 10% and 4%.
Executives at rival networks now want to know if “Today” can keep it up. Viewers in recent months have gravitated to the program in moments of crisis and spectacle, such as Matt Lauer’s ouster in late 2017 or NBCUniversal’s days-long broadcast around the recent Winter Olympics. Indeed, the show’s first two hours have not had a three-week run like this since NBC telecast the most recent Olympics from Pyeongchang, South Korea. But weeks afterward, the audience levels tend to settle.
“Today” has experienced a lot of tumult in the last 12 months. Viewers have seen the quick coming together of Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, marking the only all-female morning anchor team on national broadcast TV at present (Robin Meade leads a team through four hours or more each weekday on AT&T’s HLN). Craig Melvin, who formerly worked on the weekend “Today” broadcast, is enjoying an expanded presence during the weekday show’s first two hours. And the inordinate amount of attention paid to Kelly’s hour made the program often seem like it wasn’t part of the “Today” morning, which lasts from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. each weekday.
The third hour is now hosted by a rotating group of “Today” anchors, and saw its overall viewership rise 5% in the first week after Kelly’s departure. Producers have, for now, fashioned an hour that looks much like “Today’s” first two, except that it’s led from Studio 6A, the facility that housed “Megyn Kelly Today,” with a live audience that is significantly more subdued than the one that flocked to that program. Craig Melvin, Jenna Bush Hager and Al Roker have played larger roles in the revamped time period, aided at times by a bevy of NBC News personnel, including “Today” co-anchor Savannah Guthrie; Stephanie Gosk; and Keir Simmons. Even Natalie Morales, the former “Today” newsreader who once played a prominent anchor role at 9 a.m., has made an appearance.
Meanwhile, flagship “Today” has also benefited. For the five days ended November 9, “Today” captured an average of about 4.25 million viewers, compared with nearly 4.22 million viewers at “GMA.” NBC re-titled one of last week’s “Today” broadcasts having to do with the recent California shooting tragedy, according to a person familiar with the matter, which can affect ratings measures, but it’s the third consecutive week in which “Today” has bested “GMA” in total audience.
The margin between the two rival programs is – as it has been for years – razor-thin. Season to date, “GMA” has just 74,000 more viewers than “Today,” compared with 134,000 for the same period last season. NBC noted the viewer gap between the two programs is the closest in seven years.