NBC News President Noah Oppenheim on Megyn Kelly Debacle: "We Learned a Lesson"

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Noah Oppenheim

"At the end of the day, in this business, you take big swings and they work out and sometimes they don't," the exec said Sunday at SXSW.

At SXSW on Sunday, NBC News boss Noah Oppenheim was asked to reflect on the failed hiring of Megyn Kelly, who had her morning show cancelled amid controversy before finally leaving the network in January.

"I don't think I would get much done if I spent any time thinking about how I would 'rewrite history,'" said the exec. "Look, she's obviously a talented journalist and a talented person. We learned a lot from the experiment of having put her at 9 a.m. She did some great work on a Sunday night magazine show that we were proud of. But, at the end of the day, in this business, sometimes you take big swings and they work out, and sometimes they don't. But, the important thing is to learn whatever lesson you can and keep moving forward."

Continued Oppenheim: "The current 9 a.m. is performing extraordinarily well — Craig Melvin, Al Roker, Dylan Dreyer and Sheinelle Jones. This group of people who are familiar Today anchors, it helps us transition the audience from the 8 a.m. to the 9 a.m. hour I think more smoothly and more naturally. But, one of the lessons we were able to learn from the year that we were doing the Megyn show was that the audience at that time of morning is actually open to more substantive and more serious storytelling. ... So, we've learned a lesson that's allowed us to move forward in a successful way."

The exec also said that the November 2017 termination of longtime Today co-anchor Matt Lauer "was not easy for anyone."

Added Oppenheim, "Our focus has been on moving forward, and the partnership between Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, which has been extraordinary. I think that if you're going to give credit to anyone for the strength of the Today show in the last year-plus, it's to those two women. The fact that they were so successful in those roles was not surprising to me, because I think anyone who knows them knows how great they are and knows how well they compliment each other in terms of their skill-sets. Would we have ever thought to just do the show that way had we not found ourselves in that unfortunate circumstance? I don't know. We're fortunate that we had them, and that they're great as they are, and that it's worked out as well as it has. But, the fact that the audience has responded to Savannah and Hoda I don't think has surprised anyone who knows them."

Asked whether the Today show franchise is more important than the anchors who host the show, Oppenheim said "the debate over whether the chair matters more than the person who's sitting in it, or vice versa, has been going on I think since the beginning of TV, and you never know."

Oppenheim was asked, once again, to address Ronan Farrow's decision to take his Harvey Weinstein reporting to The New Yorker, where he won a Pulitzer Prize, after there was a "unanimous" decision by NBC News not to clear the story. "All of the folks who looked at his reporting and said, 'This isn't ready yet,' those are the same people who have shepherded the 500-plus exclusives that we have gotten on the air in the last two years, things that are equally sensitive, things that deal with national security, things that deal with sexual misconduct," he said. 

The exec added of Farrow, "We wish him well. We're glad for all of his success."

On Sunday, Oppenheim announced that the network's forthcoming streaming service will be called NBC News Now and will launch in May with eight hours of original programming. The service will be free and ad-supported.