The former Fox News anchor made a splashy start on the NBC program’s 9 a.m. hour, but critics thinks she still has room to grow; criticism over lack of diversity
Megyn Kelly is back—but on daytime television.
The former Fox News Channel anchor made her long-awaited debut on the 9 a.m. hour of NBC’s “Today Show” this morning with segments featuring the cast of “Will and Grace” and a crime-fighting nun in Chicago. The 46-year-old made her name antagonizing progressives on Fox during the night primetime hours, but this year jumped ship to 30 Rock on a reported $15 million annual contract. That still makes Kelly one of the highest paid female anchors around, though she turned down more money from her past employer.
While Kelly noted that she was still getting used to waking up early for a morning show, “Today with Megyn Kelly” had all the elements daytime watchers expect. The former attorney bounced her way onto the set (which featured a rare live audience on ‘Today’,) chilled out with the actors and showrunners behind “Will and Grace,” the NBC show which pioneered LGBTQ representation on TV and is getting rebooted, flipped omelets with “Today’s” 7 to 9 a.m. co-host Matt Lauer and presented a $12,000 check to the above-mentioned sister.
“They’re trying to blend celebrity, lifestyle and feel-good stories about women helping other women,” says Becky Diamond, an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s school of journalism. “It had cute, fun moments and people will be talking about it this week.”
‘Done with politics,’ Megyn Kelly just made her feel-good debut on the “Today” show https://t.co/BXuBb6EJX0
— Moneyish (@Moneyish) September 25, 2017
Conspicuously absent was anything overtly partisan. “I’m done with politics,” Kelly declared early on her new show, though she jokingly teased that she’d be “dissecting the latest tweet” from President Trump. “It’s so dark.” (Her former employer Fox News is a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, which shares common ownership with Moneyish publisher Dow Jones.)
“They have positioned Megyn Kelly as the glamorous choice and at home with celebrities. She delivered exactly what NBC wanted her to deliver,” says Adam Clayton Powell III, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.
Earlier this summer, Kelly hosted a controversial Sunday night news magazine show that didn’t quite garner the popular or critical acclaim NBC had hoped for.
“As [another “Today” anchor] noted, the audience doesn’t want to see perfect people at 9 a.m., and the question is if there’s a commercially viable audience at that hour,” says Powell, a former senior executive at NPR and ABC News. Industry experts say hosts that can pair glitz with a “girl/boy next door” quality tend to do the best on such morning shows.
The challenge is enhanced by her competition on ABC, where Kelly Ripa and new co-host Ryan Seacrest are also on air with “Live” at 9 a.m. “Viewers in the morning are largely women who want someone they can relate to in their kitchens and living rooms,” says Diamond, a former MSNBC reporter. “She’s currently in a role that feels unfamiliar, if not uncomfortable. She has to find her comfort zone.”
Of course, hard-hitting journalists like Diane Sawyer, Tom Brokaw and Charlie Rose have successfully made the night-to-day transition. But Diamond notes that they had more daytime-friendly co-hosts to ease their path. “It’s hard for a solo daytime host to come from her background,” she says, noting that Kelly looked noticeably more relaxed with Lauer around.
NBC had previously been subject to criticism for putting on Kelly in the place of Tamron Hall, an African-American journalist. And while black youngsters in Chicago working with a community-building nun provided a heartwarming end to the show, Powell notes that “Today” still has much work to do. “The audience on ‘Live’ was much younger and more diverse, whereas if there’s one thing NBC is not, it’s diverse,” says Powell.
Still, it’s early days and the network has clearly hired Kelly for the long haul. “’Today’ is a $1 billion franchise and if Megyn Kelly doesn’t work, it could hurt the previous hour,” notes Powell. “But the question is very much to be resolved.”
“She’s really smart and tenacious and clearly wants it,” says Diamond. “My guess is that over time, she becomes more authentic in her role.”
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