NBC threw almost 20 Million Dollars a year at Megyn Kelly to deliver her prized Fox News Channel audiences to NBC Network News. She has a daytime talk show debuting under their umbrella this fall (yet to be named or formally promoted, but apparently will be sandwiched between the first two hours of Today and winos Kathie Lee and Hoda), and currently a show airing on NBC titled "Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly."
"Sunday Night" was clearly rushed on the air as evident by the unoriginal title and the scramble to air her exclusive interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was poorly promoted by NBC News. I (along with the rest of the country) had no idea her show was debuting. But the bad reviews to follow pretty much set the tone for how awful this newsmagazine would be.
In her interview with Putin, she clearly wants to be seen as a hard interviewer. In the past, she has been. It's one of the reasons I like her. At Fox News, she aggressively questioned politicians (Mike Huckabee), pundits (Kirsten Powers), and newsmakers (Karl Rove). With Putin, it appeared as if she was asking questions, but had no idea how to follow up with his snide, condescending commentary.
With the recent Alex Jones interview, she set the stage for an attack (despite telling him off-camera it wouldn't be), but there was nothing there other than her challenging his conspiracy theories. Nothing about his early life to this point. Nothing about what evidence drew him to the conclusions he has. And to top it off, Kelly rounded out her piece with a media expert and a Sandy Hook parent, both obviously placed in after controversy surrounded the interview.
Her Erin Andrews interview is dry and full of eye-rolling banter. This is alarming because Kelly is modeling her future with NBC News after Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Charlie Rose, and other great mainstream interviewers. The problem with the interview is that Kelly wasn't engaged with her subject. Andrews would talk about her stalker, her cancer diagnosis, or her engagement and Kelly interrupted to make it known to Andrews and the viewer that she's here, she can crack a lame joke, and this is "Sunday Night." And of course she knows the difference between the NFL and NHL.
As for the rest of "Sunday Night," it's all clearly rejected or recycled puff pieces from Sunday Today with Willie Geist (Keith Morrison's New Zealand piece) and bloated Nightly News Investigations (Cynthia McFadden's Pharma Piece). But particularly stunning was that there was no summation where Kelly could ask the reporter followup questions. Most newsmagazines with a headlining lead anchor talk one-on-one with the reporter (CBS News' "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung," and more recently, Sinclair Group's "Full Measure With Sharyl Attkisson"). She should be utilizing her star power to build a connection with NBC colleagues who contribute to "Sunday Night" and especially her audience.
Lastly, Tom Brokaw's editorial to bookend her Alex Jones show is starkly reminiscent of when CBS News would trot out Bob Schieffer to help legitimize the weak and poorly reviewed Katie Couric. Is Kelly worth the trouble?
When you couple Kelly's milquetoast interviews with the hollow content from the rest of the show, it's no wonder why groin punches on "America's Funniest Home Videos" sound more appealing to network audiences.
Kelly is clearly at odds; she wants the best of both worlds (her conservative audience at Fox News and consumers of mainstream media). She wants to be liked by everyone; to not be seen as abrasive or aggressive to a mainstream audience. The problem is that she built an entire career out of being abrasive and aggressive. And in an era where anyone can cull a clip from YouTube, a reinvention of that image will never be successful and will be viewed as a false narrative.
Her desire to imitate Winfrey, Rose, and Walters is baffling; her strengths have always been in interrogating guests over hard news topics. A daytime talk show with a loud studio audience and "Steals and Deals" doesn't suit her interrogation strengths, and judging by her Fox News Special last year and her "Sunday Night" outings, she can't overcome the deficit.
As for where this leaves her daytime program, we all know this will go the way of Couric, Jane Pauley, Meredith Vieira, Anderson Cooper and others with star power who simply could not connect with their audience. But the question is: how many weeks do they give her before they yank her off the air or affiliates go rogue and air something else in that spot? Different daypart, but she may tank faster than Chevy Chase doing late night.
She would be better suited in the afternoon, delivering to the NBC Network what she did for Fox News in an hour or two-hour "Afternoon Today" style block. President Trump's White House interrupts regular daytime programming often. So why not have a face for those daytime interruptions, especially with someone who publicly went toe-to-toe with him? She can deliver breaking news updates, live interviews with politicos and also do the celebrity/inspirational stuff she thinks she can sell to daytime TV audiences.
One thing is for sure: NBC is watching this way more closely than we might think.