This is one bet the mainstream media regrets.
Megyn Kelly, the one-time golden girl of Fox News who left the network last year for a three-year, $69 million contract with NBC after a highly publicized feud with Donald Trump, is turning out to be an albatross around the Peacock Network’s neck.
And in public, at least, she’s putting the blame everywhere but where it belongs.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Wednesday, Kelly attributed her poor ratings performance as a morning personality on NBC’s “Today” show to viewers being unfamiliar with her true personality.
“I need to introduce myself to people who don’t know me or know some bastardized version of me that they’ve gotten from a website or a TV show,” Kelly told The Journal.
“There are definitely some who only know me through some caricature they learned about on ‘The Daily Show.'”
To put it mildly, that’s questionable.
At her peak at Fox — the most watched cable news network in the United States — Kelly had a public profile as high as any personality in the news business.
As The Hollywood Reporter noted in January 2017, shortly after the NBC contract was announced:
“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.”
That’s not a woman who needs an introduction.
In fact, one of the obvious reasons she was chosen as a moderator for the Republican primary debates was exactly because she was so well known. Granted, the viewing audience for morning puff-ball interviews, inane celebrity guest tricks and endless cooking segments is considerably different from evening political talk, but it’s not like Americans live in vacuums.
Her popularity among Fox viewers — even as it was buffeted during her feud with Trump — was no doubt one reason Andrew Lack, the chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, thought she was worth stealing.
Another likely reason was Lack thought for some reason that her feud with Trump would actually draw Trump-hating viewers in, believing, like most of the entertainment world, that Americans really and truly couldn’t stand the president who somehow got elected because 63 million voters woke up in a bad mood Nov. 8, 2016, or something.
Lack was poorly, poorly mistaken.
The Wall Street Journal had the numbers:
“Since joining ‘Today,’ Ms. Kelly is averaging 2.4 million viewers an episode, 18% below what the hour was pulling in last season, according to data from Nielsen. The ratings have declined sharply for the past two months, dipping to a low of 1.9 million, after getting a lift from the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics in February.
“Among adults aged 25 to 54, the key demographic that the show targets, ratings are down 28% since last season.”
So, what went wrong? Thomas Lifson, at American Thinker, hit the nail on the head when he chalked it up to “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
“Kelly’s troubles, her viewer-repellant, began when she took after then-candidate Donald Trump in a presidential debate, alienating her Fox News viewership, but sending her appeal to Trump-hating media executives through the roof. As she and her agents put her services up for bid, NBC took the bait, assuming that anti-Trump personality would appeal to TV audiences as much as it did to them and their friends in the media elites.
“But it turns out that Trump hatred is not a currency that is valued as widely as the cloistered execs assumed. They are, in a word, deranged by their loathing for Trump, unable to see and think clearly when it comes to decision-making in an area they are supposed to be the masters of: crafting entertainment with broad appeal to a mass audience of young and middle-aged adults.
“Blind hatred leads to awful decisions.”
And that’s really where the blame for Kelly’s current ratings flameout belongs.
Besides not having a personality or reputation for the kind of soft-focus, cotton-candy content required of morning programming, Kelly could not bring to NBC a huge, new audience of Trump haters … because it’s not out there.
Do millions of liberal Americans loathe the president? Of course. Is that enough to turn a contract with a personality like Kelly into a ratings success? Obviously not. If political feelings about Trump are a ratings driver at all, the success so far of ABC’s “Roseanne” shows the opposite is true.
The blame for Kelly’s ratings crash belongs with Kelly — whose persona is simply not a fit for morning television and probably won’t be in the time left on her contract. And even more so with NBC executives who — once again — badly, badly misunderstood how America between the two coasts really feels about the 45th president.
And it’s one bet this mainstream media giant has 63 million reasons to regret.
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