Megyn Kelly’s decision to go to NBC might not have been the most well thought-out move in recent broadcast history.
There isn’t any law saying that Fox News journalists can’t succeed elsewhere in the mainstream media — there are plenty of other success stories — but Kelly’s departure from Fox was more high-profile than most, and not at all friendly.
Yes, one could understand this was reasonably colored by allegations that former Fox News boss Roger Ailes had sexually importuned her, which would prejudice anyone against their former employer.
However, she made it clear that she was trying to break with all that Fox stood for — especially conservative opinion journalism. Which, correct me if I’m wrong here, but I think that’s what made her famous in the first place.
It’s also what she was good at. Her presence on NBC seemed to be a wooden interpretation of what she thought a morning show host should be like. Well, now that Kelly’s marriage with the Peacock Network has been formally dissolved, it seems viewers agree — and now they’re coming back to the third hour of the “Today” show.
Kelly, as you probably know, was relieved of her duties after a controversy that erupted when Kelly questioned why one of the profoundly interchangeable cast members of “The Real Housewives of New York” should feel bad about darkening her skin for a Diana Ross Halloween costume.
The blackface connotation implied by the costume apparently escaped Kelly, who tearfully apologized for the faux pas on air the next day. It didn’t save her job, although it probably didn’t help that her job didn’t seem safe to begin with. Ratings for her third hour of the “Today” show had always been lower than Eeyore on melatonin and didn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
The Daily Beast is reporting that viewers are coming back now that Kelly is gone.
“According to just-released weekly Nielsen averages — figures provided to The Daily Beast by a media outlet that is not connected to NBC or its parent company, Comcast — the week after Kelly’s October 26 departure and the abrupt demise of ‘Megyn Kelly Today,’ total viewership for Today’s third hour actually increased by 5 percent — from 2,522,000 during Kelly’s final week on the air to 2,649,000 during the week beginning Oct. 29.
“Significantly, this post-Kelly ratings spike occurred despite a slight falloff in total viewers (a decrease from 3,832,000 to 3,747,000) experienced week-over-week by Today’s 8 a.m. block, the lead-in to the third hour of the four-hour ‘Today’ franchise,” The Daily Beast reported.
“That absolutely comes as no surprise at all,” Andrew Tyndall, a television news analyst, told the website.
“She was a speed bump placed right in the middle of a four-hour block of programming — dismantling the sense of teamwork on that set and the flow that will get you all the way through from the hard news at 7 a.m. to the light talk through 11 o’clock.”
This is The Daily Beast, so much of the blame for this is placed on the fact that Kelly was very white and very conservative. The article noted that her former hour “has been hosted by a rotating crew of ‘Today’ personalities, including Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb, Al Roker, Jenna Bush Hager, Sheinelle Jones, and Craig Melvin.
“It’s an ethnically diverse group that seems calculated to appeal more successfully than Kelly to a daytime viewership that traditionally is composed of around 25 percent Latina and African-American women,” The Daily Beast reported. “(On her prime-time Fox News show The Kelly File, Kelly had famously insisted that Santa Claus and Jesus are white, and had anchored multiple outraged segments concerning how the Obama Attorney General Eric Holder had failed to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party for making white voters nervous at a Philadelphia polling place.)”
The evidence for this seems to be anecdotal and opinion-based at best, so let me counter-offer advice that’s also anecdotal and opinion-based: She simply wasn’t very good at her job. No, liberals were never going to embrace her (witness The Daily Beast’s postmortem, for example), but that’s besides the point.
Kelly was a pundit who didn’t want to do punditry anymore — at least, not as a full-time position. That’s totally her decision, but punditry is what she had experience at doing. She decided to try a more generalized approach to journalism and light daytime programming, but did so in the most high-profile venue possible: Hosting a third hour of the “Today” show named after her and anchoring a series of interview specials on NBC.
The interview specials were an unqualified flop which also provoked a massive controversy with her decision to interview Infowars impresario Alex Jones. “Megyn Kelly Today,” significantly lighter fare than interviewing Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists, was just simply bad TV. It was investing an hour of your day watching someone who was learning on the job. Anyone not directly related to Megyn Kelly through bloodline or marriage had anything better to do with their time.
No, I don’t believe Megyn Kelly is a racist, although the fact she didn’t realize she was walking into a career-mauling trap when she made the comments about the “blackface” Diana Ross costume shows how shockingly naïve and ill-suited for her role that she was — particularly on a family of networks not exactly famous for embracing any comment on culture that might be controversial at a liberal arts college.
However, Kelly is facing a difficult career crossroads after her firing at NBC.
Her position isn’t fiscally unenviable, given an eventual payout on a contract reportedly worth $69 million. But her likelihood of getting another job on one of the mainstream media outfits seems extraordinarily unlikely, especially now that the narrative around her firing seems to have crystalized into “Megyn Kelly thought blackface was all right.”
As for conservative punditry, she very recently made it clear she was washing her hands of that milieu; who’s going to listen to commentary from someone who seemed to think she was too good for people who listened to commentary until she realized she wasn’t good enough for what she wanted to do?
Fox News has said in the past the network doesn’t want her back. Fox viewers might agree. And it’s hard to think, quite frankly, of any other safe landing spot she has left.
I’m sure she’ll be able to get an opportunity to rehab her career; Geraldo Rivera managed to survive Al Capone’s vault and getting a chair in the nose from a neo-Nazi in what may have been the utter nadir of the era of trash TV, after all.
However, it’s going to require a lot of humility. Her next contract, I can guarantee you, won’t be worth $69 million.
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