Critic's Notebook: Megyn Kelly Flails During First Week on NBC Morning Show

Coourtesy of Peter Kramer/NBC
Megyn Kelly

The former Fox News star floundered with flubs and sappiness on NBC's 'Megyn Kelly Today.'

I watched all five episodes of the premiere week of NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today. That’s five years of my life I’m never going to get back.

At least it felt that way, and it wasn’t because of the seemingly endless commercials. Kelly, such a confident, strong presence on Fox News that she didn’t hesitate to confront Donald Trump, has unfortunately discovered a newfound perkiness for her lightweight morning show. "I’m so excited!" she exclaimed at the beginning of her debut episode. "I’m also a little nervous," she confessed. She was right to be, as her first week turned out to be a rocky one.

"We will be dissecting the latest tweet from Donald Trump," Kelly announced, before making it clear she was joking. "No, we will not be doing that. The truth is, I’m kind of done with politics for now," she told the audience, which promptly burst into cheers.

Fair enough. Who can blame Kelly for wanting a break from the likes of those manspreaders Trump and Putin? But she seems to have gone too far in the opposite direction. Hearing her profess hope that her show would provide "a laugh, a smile, sometimes a tear and maybe a little hope to start your day" was enough to provoke an instant cringe reflex.  

You’ve probably already heard about the missteps, which were far too many for a single week. When Kelly brought a Will & Grace fan onstage as part of an interview with the reunited cast and jokingly told him that his "gay thing is going to work out great," Debra Messing was visibly upset. Messing later posted online about her dismay.

Two days later, during an interview with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, who were there to plug their new movie Our Souls at Night, Kelly asked Fonda about her plastic surgery. The Oscar-winning actress, looking shocked, would have none of it. "We really want to talk about that now?" Fonda snapped as Redford desperately tried to blend into the scenery.

On Thursday, during what should have been a routine interview with soccer player Carli Lloyd, a cameraman managed to accidentally step into the picture. To make matters worse, his muttering "Shit!" upon realizing his mistake was clearly audible. The incident was practically a metaphor.

Of course, mistakes happen, and celebrities can be testy. But that doesn’t explain the general terribleness of the show in which NBC has invested so much. Or why Kelly felt the need to tell the story of her life on the first show, offering such observations as "We did not have a lot of money, but we did have a ton of love" (there goes that cringe reflex again). She also provided testimonials from seemingly everyone in her life, including her mother, husband, brother and assorted friends and family members, all of whom sung Kelly’s praises with the adorable caveat that she’s not a good cook. On the opening show, her husband even came onstage to bring her roses.

A video segment showcased her new Today show colleagues. Kelly was shown riding a tandem bike with Al Roker, which, I’m sorry, just seems like a needless risk, and cooking an omelet with Matt Lauer, who told her, "You’re part of the family." (Funnily enough, he once said the same thing to Ann Curry.) Afterward, several of them came onstage with Kelly to drink mimosas, which explains why The Today Show often seems so woozy. Roker wasn’t among them, claiming jury duty as an excuse. Yeah, right.  

Kelly begins each show with some "water cooler action," the sort of mindless tidbits that you peruse online while procrastinating at work. Many of them centered on Prince Harry and his girlfriend, the American actress Meghan Markle, with whom Kelly seems to have an obsession. At one point we even got to see video of him sharing his popcorn with a toddler. As if to explain the overkill, Kelly exclaimed, "We love the royals!" Later in the week, she brought out a journalist to talk about the couple. "The chemistry’s amazing!" he breathlessly exclaimed. "She’s feisty!" he declared of Markle. When he predicted that the couple would eventually get married and might even live in America, the largely female studio audience swooned.

Another recurring segment features Kelly taking questions from audience members such as "Chris from New Jersey" and "Heather from New Hampshire." When Chris asked what had been the biggest challenge in transitioning from evening to morning television, Kelly immediately shot back, "The alarm clock!" When queried about her opinion on NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, Kelly daringly went out on a limb. "I practiced law for nine years and I am a lover of the First Amendment," she commented. There are press conferences in North Korea that feel less scripted.  

Celebrity guests are a staple of morning shows, and this one is no exception. The first week included appearances by castmembers of This Is Us, and Saturday Night Live, which, by sheer coincidence, I’m sure, all happen to air on NBC. Kelly even managed to grotesquely plug the network’s Law and Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, about which she said "Everyone’s talking about it!" (No, we’re not. We’re really not.). Kelly didn't interview one of the stars, mind you, but rather Lyle Menendez himself, who spoke to her from prison. Kelly made a huge deal about catching Menendez in a lie — which she gently referred to as a "discrepancy" when talking to him — about whether or not he had told his mother about being abused by his father. Quite a journalistic coup to discredit a convicted cold-blooded murderer.

Then there are the heartwarming human-interest stories (presumably that’s where "the little hope to start your day" comes in), which included segments about an elderly nun who patrols the streets of Chicago’s South Side, four female African-American police chiefs, nurses who care for opioid-addicted infants and an electronics-sniffing police dog. The feel-good stories inevitably ended with large donations to the various causes delivered by smiling corporate types bearing billboard-sized checks. It all made it seem less a morning talk show than Publishers Clearing House.

Megyn Kelly Today is so far proving a depressingly facile and ill-conceived vehicle for a journalist who was one of the smarter, saner voices at Fox News. (I’m admittedly grading on a curve.) Kelly may be "done with politics for now," but unless this show improves, and fast, politics may not be done with her.

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