When NBC paid over $15 million a year for former Fox News Star Megyn Kelly to appear on the network, network executives probably weren’t expecting reviews headlined with “Megyn Kelly Today’ Isn’t Partisan, but It’s Awkward” and “Megyn Kelly Today’ is not Going Well.” Variety’s Maureen Ryan wrote, “What ‘Megyn Kelly Today’ should have done, right out of the gate, was give viewers reasons to return tomorrow — and the days and weeks after that. But those reasons were difficult to find.”
The general consensus from critics was clear, however ratings numbers show a more complicated story.
“Megyn Kelly Today,” the new third hour of NBC’s flagship morning program, “opened with 2.93 million viewers on Monday and dropped to 2.4 million viewers by Thursday, according to Nielsen. During the 2016-17 season, the 9 am edition of “Today,” which Kelly replaced, averaged 2.8 million viewers each day,” according to reporting from the Los Angeles Times.
Most of the growing pains for the show are related to Kelly herself. Formerly a lawyer, Kelly was known at Fox News for her tough interviews and aggressive style. While always a star at Fox News, she gained mainstream prominence for her questions to then-candidate Donald Trump at the first debate of the 2016 Republican primary. This kicked off a six-month feud between Kelly and Trump.
Despite her political chops, Kelly surprised some when she declared her new show as a politics-free zone. “The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now,” Kelly told her live studio audience. Most of her show so far has been inspirational pieces and interviews with celebrities currently on NBC shows.
It was an awkward start for Kelly. She drew criticism for asking a superfan of NBC’s Will and Grace if “it was true [he] became a lawyer and… became gay because of Will.”
She also made headlines for asking actress Jane Fonda about her previous plastic surgery.
Questioning politicians on Fox News and interviewing celebrities on a morning show are proving to be very different.
Kelly left Fox News in January to join the NBC team in a duel role; morning show personality and weekend newsmagazine host. “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” designed to compete with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” ended its summer run full of controversy and declining ratings. Kelly, trying to capture headlines, interviewed controversial guests like InfoWars host Alex Jones and Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, the show was panned by critics, with a 30 percent rating on the aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. While “Sunday Night” is supposed to come back after football season and NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, its summer run was cut two episodes early, leaving the show’s future in question.
As Megyn Kelly Today heads into its second week, NBC executives will get a clearer picture of the show’s ratings and how it compares to its competitors like ABC’s Live with Kelly and Ryan.
Kelly’s decision to move away from politics may end up broadening her show’s potential audience, though her primetime pedigree and interviewing style has already caused friction with some guests. Observers will be eager to see if the $15 million price tag pays off.