Here’s a Look Back at Megyn Kelly’s Run at NBC News

By A.J. Katz 

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As we reported last night, Megyn Kelly is leaving NBC News with the remaining $25-30 million remaining on that three-year, $69 million contract she signed in January 2017.

“The parties have resolved their differences, and Megyn Kelly is no longer an employee of NBC,” the network said in a statement released Friday night.

Her departure comes roughly two and a half months after she apologized for making remarks on her show about the use of blackface on Halloween. Her program, Megyn Kelly Today was taken off the air later that week in October 2018.

Kelly made the big decision to leave Fox News in January 2017 after more than a decade at the network, and she began at NBC on May 1.

She was in contract negotiations with Fox News when she sat down for an interview with Adweek in November 2016. During that sit-down, she said of her next move: “This is a big one for me and I don’t want to screw it up.”

It looks like she screwed it up.

Kelly began her tenure at NBC News on a high note and amid much fanfare. NBCUniversal gave her the spotlight during May 2017 upfront presentation to the ad buying community. Former Today show co-host Matt Lauer of all people was Kelly’s biggest supporter on the stage, telling the audience she was “someone who shares our values and will help to make us even better tomorrow.”

“I’m here. I’m psyched!” Kelly said when she arrived onstage. “I’m thrilled now to be able to anchor the kinds of broadcasts that I’d always dreamed I’d be able to do, that I felt in my heart I was born to do.”

Her tenure at NBC News began with her Sunday prime time news magazine, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, which launched in the summer of 2017.

“I’m back to that feeling I used to have when I first started in journalism, where I felt that I would do this job for free. I would absolutely do it for free,” Kelly told TVNewser at the time.

The series premiere included an exclusive with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, an interview which garnered mixed reviews.

Her second broadcast featured an interview with radio talk show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a bridge too far for many broadcast news viewers, including a Connecticut TV station, who refused to even air it due to Jones’ continued insane, baseless stance that the Sandy Hook, Ct. massacre was “a hoax.” JPMorgan pulled its ads from the broadcast in light of the Jones interview. The program never seemed to recover, and was losing to re-runs of 60 Minutes by a substantial margin in the ratings.

After a brief run, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly didn’t return for a second season.

Megyn Kelly Today faced scrutiny from the start. Some longtime Today show viewers were still unhappy that Kelly’s 9 a.m. predecessor, Today’s Take got the ax. They were also ticked off that the arrival of Kelly more or less led to the departure of Tamron Hall, who coincidentally has her own syndicated daytime talk program set to launch next year on Disney/ABC stations.

There was the infamous Jane Fonda interview, who was one of Kelly’s first guests. When the topic of Fonda’s plastic surgery was broached, the guest expressed shock, and appear to take great offense. Kelly says she didn’t necessarily mean the question as an insult. Fast forward to January 2018, after Fonda spoke to Variety about the encounter, Kelly said she didn’t regret the question, saying, “For years she has spoken about the joy of giving a cultural face to older women. The truth is, most women look nothing like Fonda, who is now 80. If she wants to have a real discussion, her plastic surgery is tough to ignore.”

Kelly also experienced a social media backlash for asking a Will & Grace fan if he was influenced to become gay because of the longtime NBC comedy and its lead character—and when Will & Grace co-star Debra Messing subsequently criticized Kelly.

A more recent example is from May 2018, when Kelly garnered controversy over her stance on Starbucks recently-implemented policy allowing people who don’t purchase products to use the restroom.

They’re allowing anyone to stay and use the bathroom even if they don’t buy anything, which has a lot of Starbucks customers saying, ‘Really?’ “Now the Starbucks are going to get overwhelmed with people and is it really just a public space or is it not?

Megyn Kelly Today got off to a slow start, ratings-wise. In fact, ratings were down double digits vs. what Today’s Take was hauling in at the same point in 2017.

“I think any show needs about a year to just find its footing,” Kelly told the WSJ’s Joe Flint back in April.

When we sat down again with Kelly in July 2018, her show had just posted 3 consecutive months of total viewer growth, from March through June; but it wasn’t enough to offset the total viewer decline for the calendar year. Total audience for Megyn Kelly Today from Sept. 2017 – Sept. 2018 was -13 percent vs. what Today’s Take had been delivering from Sept. 2016 – Sept. 2017.

“You’re definitely going to feel something when you watch this show, something other than anger,” she told us in that July interview.

Kelly was unique in that she brought a prosecutor’s mindset to morning television. But she also did things like this:

And she had also to deal with a barrage of hit pieces from Page Six.

But not all was bad for Kelly at NBC News.

While ratings for the 9 a.m. hour with Kelly at the helm were not spectacular, she had actually been helping NBC’s top line more than her 9 a.m. predecessor.

Megyn Kelly Today also managed to score an Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Talk Show – Informative category, and the program was largely lauded for its coverage of sexual harassment and #MeToo. Perhaps a bit out of the ordinary for a morning show.

Kelly was unafraid to take on her own network, a move admirable from a journalistic standpoint, but may not have won her many friends in upper management in the long run.

For example, in a May 2018 broadcast, she addressed NBC’s findings from the 5-month-long Matt Lauer investigation, which concluded that NBC and Today show leadership did not receive any complaints about Lauer prior to Nov. 27th, 2017, and when it did receive complaints, Lauer was fired within 24 hours. Kelly talked about how a number of people outside of NBC had negative reactions to NBC’s investigation of itself, and how that companies “like to keep these things in-house so they don’t spin out of control, even though women inside and outside of the company would prefer to have an independent investigation.”

While Kelly has had some highlights at NBC, particularly when it came to her tough coverage of sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, there indeed seemed to be too much anger being felt; a no-no for morning television, and a contributor to its downfall and eventual cancellation, and eventually, her exit from the network.

Kelly would most certainly welcome a return to TV news this year, telling a TMZ camera crew as much on Thursday evening.

It’s not exactly clear though where she would go, however. I don’t think we should expect CNN or the other broadcast networks to come calling. At least not in 2019.

Any possible chance of a Fox News reunion? I bet Kelly would welcome it. However, I’m not sure if the feeling is mutual. 21st Century Fox executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch said back in November that Fox News  is “very happy” with its current lineup, and if our comment section is any indication, I don’t see conservative news viewers ready to welcome her back with open arms just yet.

However, Kelly still has friends back at Fox News. Fox & Friends meterologist Janice Dean is one of her best, so I guess you never know!