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Back from maternity leave and leaving her former daytime home, Megyn Kelly is celebrating Fox News Channel’s 17th anniversary by moving into the most coveted time slot in cable news. The anchor takes over Sean Hannity‘s 9 p.m. slot, effective Monday, where she’ll have a hefty lead-in from Bill O’Reilly.
But Kelly insists that her new nightly broadcast, The Kelly File, is a departure from the commentary-heavy hours from outspoken conservatives O’Reilly and Hannity. She’s taken the executive producer and her line producer from former series American Live in hopes of devoting more of the hour to digesting the news. And, at the very least, she joins Greta Van Susteren (now on at 7 p.m.) in making up the most female-driven block in cable news.
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Kelly chatted with The Hollywood Reporter on the eve of her show’s official launch. And in addition to outlining her desire to not be an “opinion host,” the anchor sounded off on issues of political transparency among broadcasters, the advice she got from Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and her career-making moment during the 2012 election coverage when she got into it with FNC contributor Karl Rove — who was disputing Fox’s calling the election for Barack Obama.
How are you handling the transition from the news division to primetime, where Fox has always been very commentary driven?
I’m not going to be an opinion host. It’s not what I want, and it’s not what my boss wants of me. It’s just not who I am, and I don’t think it’s ever going to be who I am. I’m not an ideologue, so I think it’d be unsuccessful if I did that. It’s a better show, for an opinion host, if you’re strongly opinionated on a lot of issues. The lawyer in me tends to be able to see both sides of almost every issue. My show is going to be a straight news show, and in terms of difference: I’ve had a lot of success with the afternoon show, thankfully, so I’m not looking to completely throw that out and start anew.
Are there any other shows or broadcasters that your taking cues from?
Not exactly, not in preparation for this show. Obviously in my broadcast career, I’ve had lots of folks whom I consider mentors — Brit Hume comes to mind, and I’ve always admired Diane Sawyer — but I wouldn’t say I modeled myself after her or him. I’ve just been marching to the beat of my own drum, with some inspiration from my boss. [Ailes] pulled me aside early on and said, “Look, stop trying to be perfect. Be yourself. You’re not perfect, and they know that. And you’re never going to fool anybody in believing you are, so just show them who you are and you’ll stand or fall accordingly.” Once he told me that and I sort of had permission to do that, life got a lot easier for me. I’ve achieved sort of homeostasis between my on-air personality and my real personality. It’s just a much easier way to go through life.
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You said on his show last week that you don’t want to be the female Bill O’Reilly.
Well, it’s not like if they think you’re going to be like Bill O’Reilly it’s a terrible thing. I just don’t want anybody to tune in thinking they’re going to get this strong opinion — finally you get to hear how Megyn feels about these issues — because that’s not what’s happening. I just want people to know what the product is, and they can decide whether they want to sample it or not.
Do you think it matters if viewers know a broadcaster’s political leanings?
I think that people don’t know that of me. Some people think they know that, but they don’t know. I’ve been told by both sides that I confuse them — which I like, but I actually don’t think it’s important. I believe you could know exactly what a reporter or an anchor’s political leanings are and still trust them to give you a fair newscast, based on the product they offer. Brit Hume has made notice of the fact that he’s a conservative and has been his whole life. When you watch his reporting on ABC News back in the day when Peter Jennings is anchoring and they were getting 10 million viewers a night, you would not know Brit Hume was a conservative guy. He offered a fair presentation of the news of the day despite his own political leanings. Would it have bothered liberals at the time to know that Brit Hume was a conservative? I don’t think so. I think the work speaks for itself.
Are there any types of stories you couldn’t tell in the daytime that you want to pursue now?
I think on primetime you can be a little more bold with stories because you don’t assume that it’s moms home with their kids watching your newscast at 9 p.m. You probably have the moms, but not the children. In the afternoon I was really sensitive to the fact that there were a lot of parents watching the show with their kids either in the room or milling about, and I tried not to upset them.
Why do you think trial coverage is so compelling to viewers?
I think part of it is just the human drama. I also feel that there’s nothing like watching a verdict come in. There’s just something about it. Somebody’s freedom hangs in the balance here. Crime has really had a particular place in the news cycle. Whether it was Jack the Ripper back in the day or O.J. Simpson 20 years ago or Casey Anthony today. There’s something about a mystery.
Were you surprised the by the reaction to your challenging Karl Rove on election night?
I was. I had a sense that that was going to be a moment that would be replayed as it was happening, and then I remember saying to everyone at the Decision Desk, “You realize this is going to be everywhere tomorrow” — but I didn’t realize how everywhere. I did not have an appreciation at the time of how big that was going to get and how viral that was going to go. To Roger Ailes’ credit, he could have said, “I’m not letting that happen. I’m not letting Karl Rove offer that challenge aloud and I’m certainly not letting one of my anchors go down the hall and have an on-air challenge.” But, he always errs the side of letting viewers in and pulling the curtain back and just showing them how the sausage is made. For people who watch Fox News a lot, I don’t think it was particularly shocking, You’ve seen Shepard Smith do it too.
Were there any stories during your maternity leave that had you itching to get back to work?
Not this time. On my last maternity leave, they killed Bin Laden and Anthony Weiner had his implosion — the original implosion. Those really did have me wanting to come back, but this time it’s been a pretty slow news cycle. And, you know, the Syrian story has been pretty compelling. If we were about to go to war with Syria I would have liked to have been on the air, but thankfully that was avoided.
You did miss a second Anthony Weiner implosion.
I have to admit, I was shocked. I was shocked the first time, and then I was shocked that he did it again. You’ve been forgiven, you’ve been given a second chance, you’ve been rising in the polls, what are you doing? I hope he doesn’t wind up hosting some cable news show.
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