Megyn Kelly Plans (Mostly) Trump-Free 'Today' Hour

Nathan Congleton/NBC

An "awkward" Kardashian sit-down signals a shift away from politics after a summer ratings slide.

Last April, Megyn Kelly flew to Los Angeles for a sit-down with the Kardashian family, including matriarch Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian. The hook was the upcoming 10th anniversary of E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Kelly was only days on the job as NBC’s newest anchor, having passed up a $25 million offer from Fox News, where she built a reputation as a tenacious and fearless interviewer. The family would already be assembled for a sit-down the same day with pal Ryan Seacrest, whose production company produces the Kardashian franchise. But if the Kardashians expected an anodyne conversation rehashing 10 years of life in a reality TV fishbowl of their own making, what they got was a probing of their polarizing role in the culture. A source close to the Kardashians describes it as “awkward.” 

Now, with Seacrest’s E! special scheduled to bow Sept. 24, Kelly's Karsdashian interview may air before the Sept. 25 premiere of her Today show hour, Megyn Kelly Today, says an NBC News source, though parts of it may still air on Kelly’s show. But the episode illustrates the challenge Kelly is navigating as she sets about broadening her image from the prosecutorial interlocutor that made her a star in the combative cable news arena to a self-deprecating working mom dealing with some of the same real-world issues as her morning TV audience.

Jackie Levin, executive producer of Megyn Kelly Today, positions Kelly's 9 a.m. show as an antidote of sorts to the ideological skirmishes of cable TV. "This is going to be where people can connect, where they can have a conversation," says Levin, a 23-year veteran of NBC News who has spent 11 years at Today. "Will the T-word be mentioned? Yes, from time to time," she adds, referring to President Trump, with whom Kelly tangled during the campaign. "But is it going to be on a regular basis? No."

Kelly already has done plenty of feature interviews on her Sunday night NBC program that bowed in June. But the segments that stand out are the cross-examinations (of Russian President Vladimir Putin and alt-right conspiracy monger Alex Jones).

The 9 a.m. hour of Today has long been a celebrity-driven hour. And Kelly's first week is heavy on stars. In keeping with the Symphony synergy mandate at NBCUniversal, many hail from NBC, including the Will & Grace and This Is Us casts as well as the women of Saturday Night Live (including Emmy-winner Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong and Leslie Jones). Robert Redford and Jane Fonda — who are promoting their Netflix movie Our Souls at Night — also will appear during the first week.

The show will include a live audience — a departure for the Today franchise but a staple of daytime chat shows. "There will be a ton of interaction, if we do it right, between Megyn and the audience," says Levin. "It will definitely be a large part of the show." Megyn Kelly Today has been in rehearsals for about two weeks, including in front of an audience.

The media attention on Kelly has been intense. "I've had my own scrutiny in the press," Kelley told THR last May, "but this is a weird new kind."

But executives at NBC News have stressed that they are prioritizing Kelly's journalism over a race for eyeballs. But NBC News has much at stake, not least of which is Kelly's reported $17 million salary and an effort to remake an hour of their lucrative morning TV franchise around one anchor. And in today's media environment, viewers are unlikely to give shows more than one look. Levin is aware of this. "People's attention spans are shorter," she says, "so you want to grab them right away."

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.