Megyn Kelly Faces Big NBC Challenges: "Daytime Is Brutal"
What Kelly's new deal means for NBC News, Fox News Channel and the media star herself.
New year, new network. Megyn Kelly started 2017 announcing her departure from Fox News Channel for a multifaceted mega-pact with NBC News, altering the TV journalism landscape and positioning perhaps cable news' biggest star for a risky and career-changing reinvention.
The multiyear deal gives Kelly her own daytime weekday news vehicle, a Sunday night newsmagazine and a key role in breaking news coverage. “For years, the story for broadcast network news has been downsizing and retrenchment,” says independent news analyst Andrew Tyndall. “[But] this is a huge investment.”
Nabbing Kelly is a coup for NBCUniversal News Group chairman Andrew Lack, who beat out would-be suitors including ABC News and CNN. Neither network came close to matching the reported $20 million annual salary the Murdochs were willing to shell out to keep Kelly (multiple insiders says the offer went as high as $25 million). But sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that NBC was not the highest bidder for Kelly, who has made no secret of her desire to spend more time with her three young children than her live 9 p.m. FNC show allowed.
The deal, which was finalized over the holidays, blindsided Kelly’s colleagues at Fox News, where executives were unsure if Kelly would be anchoring her show Tuesday night. But Kelly was indeed in her seat, where she announced her last day on The Kelly File will be Friday. And she delivered an emotional message to her viewers.
"I am very grateful to NBC for this opportunity, and I am deeply thankful to Fox News for the wonderful 12 years I have had here. I have grown up here, and been given every chance a young reporter could ever ask for," she said.
A former corporate lawyer, Kelly, 46, had risen to become the biggest media star at the network after Bill O'Reilly, and her ratings during the run-up to the November election even surpassed his at times. But Kelly was polarizing to some conservative Fox News viewers after she took then-candidate Donald Trump to task for his sexist comments in the first Republican debate. Kelly also is said to have butted heads internally at times with O'Reilly and fellow anchor Sean Hannity, with the latter exchanging barbs with Kelly on Twitter at the height of the election. Keeping Kelly in the fold, especially in the aftermath of the exit of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes last summer amid sexual harassment claims that Kelly herself lodged at her former boss, was said to be a priority of the Murdoch family. Kelly is said to have called Lachlan Murdoch before she announced her decision Tuesday, and Rupert Murdoch put out a statement thanking Kelly and wishing her well.
Staffers at NBC News also were caught off guard by the announcement. “Everyone was in shock,” one tells THR. “It’s a major move and very surprising.”
But rival executives note that Kelly and NBC News have a big challenge ahead in luring broadcast’s daytime viewers sated on light fare including game shows and celebrity chat to a program more steeped in news. “Megyn Kelly is extremely talented,” says one. “But daytime is brutal.” NBC News' Lack told The New York Times that he will be personally involved in creating Kelly's new shows. There is industry speculation that Kelly could have a role on the 9 a.m. hour of Today, which has been a work in progress since Billy Bush was ousted in October in the wake of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which he was engaged in an extremely lewd conversation with Trump. The 9 a.m. hour has long been the weak link in the lucrative franchise, which includes a successful 10 a.m. hour hosted by Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford. And insiders note that 1 p.m., when the soap Days of Our Lives currently airs, is more likely.
Kelly anchored her own successful show on Fox News in the afternoon before being promoted to primetime in 2013. And Lack has ample experience with the format. He was the executive producer of CBS News' West 57th Street, which bowed in 1985, when the broadcast landscape was far different. Of late, broadcast daytime has been inhospitable to news stars who have attempted to make that leap, including Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira and Anderson Cooper, all of whose shows were canceled after the requisite two-season initial order.
Kelly’s Fox broadcast special last May, featuring her Trump interview, was seen as a preview for the longer, softer pieces Kelly may feature on her Sunday night program. But Megyn Kelly Presents was not a ratings hit and was drubbed by critics. And NBC has Sunday Night Football in the fall, which might preempt Kelly’s program. If it’s on earlier in the evening, she will have the unenviable task of going up against CBS News’ venerable 60 Minutes. Already, media critics are pouncing. Politico's Jack Shafer wrote a column with the headline, "Megyn Kelly's Big Mistake."
In addition, it’s unclear when Kelly will begin appearing on NBC. Her Fox News deal is not up until July and she also has a standard non-compete clause in her contract that could keep her off the air for several months after the end date, though an earlier exit agreement is likely.
FNC hasn’t announced what it will do after Kelly leaves, but the exit leaves a big hole at a network that brings in $1 billion in profit annually for the Murdochs' 21st Century Fox. Kelly's regular fill-ins include Martha MacCallum, Shannon Bream and Sandra Smith.
Her replacement likely won't mirror her mainstream appeal and star power, says Tyndall, but it does take a prominent critic of the president-elect off the network that appeals to many of his supporters. “Kelly’s departure liberates Fox to be the ideological brand of the Trump administration,” he says.