In her first month as a morning show host, Megyn Kelly has experienced visible growing pains, after matriculating from a toxic conservative media outlet into millions of liberal American households.
When NBC announced the decision to give Kelly her own morning slot—despite poor ratings for her initial Sunday night series—a swath of viewers and fellow media members disapproved, especially since it meant she’d be replacing fan favorites Tamron Hall and Al Roker. In her first week on air, Kelly managed to make headlines at least, leaving Jane Fonda dumbfounded by a plastic surgery question. In the second week, days after the deadliest mass shooting in the US., Kelly was criticized for appearing to cut off Tom Brokaw as he was critiquing the NRA.
Behind the scenes, the show’s producers seem to be struggling to figure out what a Megyn Kelly show should look like. While NBC remains patient by necessity, and as Kelly grows more comfortable in the role, ratings have reportedly been soft and slipping since the first week, hitting a “possible all-time low” for the Today Show brand, according to Page Six sources. Adjacently, publicists appear to be reluctant to feature their clients on the show—“I literally haven’t pitched anyone even from right out the gate. The buzz that is out there is so bad,” one publicist told Variety.
Many of the TV anchors and personalities I spoke to—who work for local stations or major network affiliates—agree that there’s a problem, much of which has to do with Kelly’s attempt to outrun her past life. Here’s what peers had to say about the Megyn Kelly Today format, its execution, pros, cons, and whether Megyn Kelly can survive in the morning.
Anchor #1, Baltimore:
It’s definitely not my cup of tea, but it’s funny to criticize because she’s going to make more money this month than I’m probably going to make in 10 years. I can see what she’s up against and it’s not easy. First of all, it looks more like an Ellen show. With the live audience, it looks like a daytime talk show and she’s not Ellen. Ellen is Ellen.
I don’t like the live studio audience for that time. They cut away to the audience and they’re frowning. Go watch Ellen—no one’s frowning. If that’s what she wanted, that’s her biggest problem. That doesn’t mean it can’t work, but I think a lot of viewers would agree that part of it doesn’t work.
So you’re stuck in this weird I want to be a news show but I want to be an Ellen Show netherworld and that’s a difficult place for anybody to be living in. It made me think of this great line in Apollo 13: “What do we have on the ship that’s good?” The ship is literally falling apart in space and who says that line? It’s not Tom Hanks, the superstar. It’s the guy behind the scene, Ed Harris, who’s supposedly running the show. Somebody’s gotta do something if they want to fix that. It’s not gonna be her because that’s not really her job. Her job is the talent.
What she was doing at Fox worked for her. She said something about how she doesn’t want to do politics anymore. To me, that’s not a very wise thing. Jimmy Kimmel’s doing politics—you can’t avoid it. The viewers have certain expectations. If she doesn’t want to do politics, go watch Kelly [Ripa] interview a celebrity. There’s no plastic surgery [questions]. It’s all fluff. Don’t try to sit there and pretend like you’re going to uncover the hard scoop.
[Ed Note: Since the show premiered, Kelly has done a few, though not many, politically-based segments, including one about Donald Trump.]
That might be somewhat unfair to a female anchor or presenter, because what if it was a guy doing this show? Would they be saying the same thing? It’s just a really, really hard job even if they weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, which they seem to try to be doing. All that being said, all the comments that I’ve seen, like it’s apocalyptic—I don’t see that at all. I still think she’s really talented, she’s really smart, she’s really good. If she’s good at what she does, then it should be possible to design a show that works for her.
I would think that if you’re NBC, you would at least want to get her through February of next year, two sweeps periods—November and February—and that’s going to seem like an eternity especially if she craters in November. Those are still big in broadcast. They can’t just dump her; that would make them look bad. So she may have a little bit of a safety net there to right the ship. But if those numbers are less than what they used to be, she’s in trouble.
Anchor #2, Chicago:
Hosting a live show is a lot harder than it looks. There is a reason the greats are just so revered—there are few of them. Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert were criticized when they first hopped in the shot chair of their late night shows. It takes a bit of time to find your groove. I would like to give her the clemency and time to do that.
Megyn comes from a show that was all teleprompter and hard, pointed questions. She literally built a career on asking tough questions to tough people. Morning TV is about being vulnerable, light-hearted, relatable. In my opinion, the issues she had with Jane Fonda and the cast of Will & Grace stemmed from inexperience. She’s not trying to be callus, she is just not used to conducting those kind of interviews and it requires a whole lot more empathy, relaxation, and curiosity. If she has it in her to adapt, it will most definitely take her time to do so.
I hope she is able to find her groove, relax, and not feel like she has anything to prove. The walls need to come down, the narrative NBC is trying to build for her needs to be ignored, and the real Megyn Kelly needs to saunter onto the set every morning. As a live morning show host, I can tell you that it is much easier said than done, especially when your reputation and career is riding on it. But it’s the only way she will win.
Done with politics: Even if that is her goal, I don’t see how that’s possible. She laid out the objective of her show very clearly on day 1: “If me and my producers do our job right you will find out what you need to know today to get yourselves through the day.” You definitely need to know what’s going on in the world, and furthermore, the line between pop culture and politics has been blurred. For some reason either she or NBC (or both) felt like they had to present this new Megyn to the world and try to create a new brand narrative for her. Instead, they should have let the real Megyn shine naturally.
Anchor #3, New York City:
I think it’s really challenging when you stay away from news and politics and have to create content from scratch, day in and day out, to have really substantive stuff. It just makes for an extremely soft kind of show. It feels slightly incongruous in terms of the other hours.
Anchor #4, Waco, Texas:
I feel she is trying too hard to connect with the audience. I understand it’s a different demographic, but it seems forced. I also think NBC’s talk show concept took a lot of people by surprise and not in a good way. She was a respected journalist and I feel this new show takes her credibility down considerably low. I look forward to seeing something a little more serious that is still morning show appropriate.
Anchor #5, Louisiana:
I don’t think the show knows its identity and it’s trying to do literally everything. It’s a mess, distracting, confusing, and a little jarring at times. They’re confused about the tone. You can tell they want to do something with her, and it’s not like she’s going to take Lester Holt’s spot in the morning, so it’s tricky to figure out where she goes. It’s almost like they’re not sure how she’s going to command a morning show set and if she can how to deal with a live audience. She’s like the really intelligent woman that’s president of everything but a little socially awkward.
I work mornings, so I’m very familiar with them. Mornings are upbeat, lighthearted, you want to talk about things that are happening in the world but it’s not the place for hard, in-depth arguments and going in depth with these horrible stories. The audience is in her face and in every shot, but they’re not really participating unless it’s a random question, like an advice show in the afternoon. The [viewing] audience, they’re not sure if the show is Dr. Oz, or is it Kelly & Ryan, or is it a Today Show?
Some of the best moments in the show are when she tells her personal stories from a lawyer’s standpoint. I don’t think it’s the place for her to be as political and intense as she was at Fox, but this is her strong suit and they need to play to that, as well as show off her personality.
Savannah Guthrie is such a good example of balancing the morning fun with the serious side. She can turn around and talk with a pop star that’s 21 years old and it’s a blast and you feel like you know her. Megyn, she’s so used to the interview set as her courtroom and she’s arguing for or against them and that’s weird in the morning. She’s acting like: I’ve never done this. No I have not been one of the most prominent political figures for several years on TV. This is my first time. It’s a very confusing thing.
We all know who you are. You’re Megyn Kelly and have your own hour because of your past experience and the numbers you’re able to pull in. To be honest, I was very surprised that they were so quick to sign her on for such a major contract and such a big show, giving her an hour one-hundred percent without any experience. She didn’t even guest very much on a Today show to warm up.
To see [Ryan Seacrest] and Kelly [Ripa] together, it took 24 hours for America to fall in love and say they’re so cute together and have great chemistry. Whereas Megyn, I don’t know. I can’t tell when she’s being Megyn, if she’s acting, what’s the role. I don’t know her and they’re not using the show well to let us get to know her.
She needs to stop being afraid of her personality. She just needs to be Megyn up there, talking to these people like she knows them, interact with her audience a little bit better, and I think that will help her come across. Because the audience is a visual representation of the viewers at home and it is a lot of women. It’s people in waiting rooms watching, somebody in the office watching. You want someone warm and pleasant and it’s awesome that she’s so intelligent, but personality has to really come through so that we feel like we’re getting to know the real Megyn Kelly.
Anchor #6, Tulsa, Oklahoma:
I think Megyn Kelly is wired for combative interviews. That’s why she did so well in her previous format. She’s very talented, but this show just isn’t the right fit for her skills.
I read her autobiography last year. While I believe the Trump feud took a toll on her personally, and she thought she wanted a lighter and more fun format, I don’t think her personality is suited for it.
Anchor #7, Formerly Atlanta
I have over 10 years of morning show experience and it’s a totally different audience. They’re 9, 11 a.m. shows that are lighter and geared toward a female audience—the mom who just dropped the kids off at the bus stop, the entrepreneur who’s working at home. Megyn Kelly is gonna have to learn how to communicate to that audience. I never really followed her until I joined Fox, but I’ve always found her to be interesting.
There’s an idea of how a female broadcaster in the morning should be. There’s this idea of this bubbly mom who’s smiling and giggling and witty and always pleasant and I don’t think that’s real America. I think what she brings is a real challenge to what we’ve come to expect from our female broadcasters.
The strange thing is she’s all by herself. To soften her up, it would do her well to have someone to play off. Morning TV, typically you should have someone to show your personality ’cause she can come off as extremely harsh. She has to be true to herself and find a way to be true. She was on Fox and said some really ugly things and has to find a way to rework it. TV is forgiving.
Kelly Ripa worked for daytime forever, Ellen DeGeneres is self-deprecating, and I think Megyn Kelly needs to show weakness—things that make her more like a human. She’s someone who’s thought to be a perfectionist. It’s clear with her mannerisms. But nobody wants to watch someone who’s perfect. Who doesn’t like a little bit of drama? You can’t have someone who’s beautiful, perfect, sounds perfect, doesn’t make mistakes. She’s gonna have to be more transparent. She’s got the paper résumé, but she’s hard to relate to in many ways.
Most people do not do well in daytime talk. It’s an anomaly if you can do well. She has so much in her history that people will like if she opens herself up and I only know that because I read her book. She’s gonna have to find another way to have a dialogue with people in the morning. But please don’t do another pants segment. I saw her doing a fashion segment and I’m like, Oh my god, this is not Megyn Kelly! She should stick to what she’s good at. She can’t change who she is on TV. She did some segment on pants and it was horrible. I wanted to scream and I know she’s trying to be relatable, but I’m not the viewer that’s gonna be attracted to that. Give me a softer version of consumer news that’s going to affect me when I go to the grocery store.
Just be the crazy woman you were on Fox and if it fails, it fails. And then maybe I’ll get to like you more. But don’t be something different. What are you doing a pants segment for?! Don’t put on a pair of pants for me.
Anchor #8, Charlotte, North Carolina:
Here’s the thing with Megyn Kelly. I think it was just a bit bizarre to watch her switch from this persona of being a hard news conservative, hard-hitting interviewer, to trying to fit the Today Show mold. You’ve shown us one side of the mask and now you’re trying to flip to the other side, but I’m always going to think about what’s on the other side of that mask.
Do I think that the Today Show brand is her lane? Not at all. They’re trying to push her as this morning show, look-at-my light-colors-that-I-wear, look-I’m-not-so-serious. Stick with your brand. Because as soon as you start to stray away from that, you’re no longer believable. It’s awkward and it becomes almost kind of painful.
Viewers are not as stupid as we think they are. It reflects in the numbers. Tamron Hall can flip from being very much hard news and then she can turn around and put on roller skates. You don’t see that from Megyn Kelly and that’s not to take anything from her. She’s good at what she does, but what she doesn’t do is this.
I think they need to be smarter about who she books on the show. I don’t think she has that ability to jump from a light-hearted interview with Jane Fonda talking about a movie or Debra Messing. She can talk about NRA, she can talk about gun control, civil rights issues, but she’s going to ask some questions that will make you slightly cringe. She can’t turn around and do a cooking show right afterward in the same light. Some people just don’t have that ability.
I think that once she genuinely shows us who she is and what she’s all about, she’s going to find her core fanbase. There’s a viewer for every person out there. Some people absolutely hate Wendy Williams, but some people love her. She’s authentic, 100 percent, whether you like it or not. And there’s an audience for her because her show is still going on. Celebrities hate Wendy Williams, but celebrities always go on her show.
That’s what Megyn Kelly has to do. She has to be one-hundred percent authentic and not have to convince us of who she is. Rather, show us this is who I am. And surprise me. The way the situation played out was a little messed up. Today Show seems to have a record of handling things improperly. It makes me wonder how the other on-air staffers feel about her being there. Their reception says a lot.
She’s never presented herself to the world in this way, so to be fair, we gotta give her some time. When you have to adjust to a role where you’re coming from talking about Santa not being a black guy to having Jane Fonda on the show and asking her about her plastic surgery—it’s two totally different roles. We’re expecting her to go from Megyn Kelly to Oprah. It doesn’t work that way.
When you have a hundred people sitting in front of you, it’s a little bit tough. You’re gauging their reactions, looking at their faces. I would love to hear her say that she’s nervous because I think it would humanize her just a little. Just to say, “I am scared as hell.” Or, “This is something I’ve never done, I’m hoping it’s great.” I would love to see Megyn the wife, Megyn the mom. I would like to see her in her natural element, whether it’s an element where she’s bitchy, or she’s a homemaker, or she’s a true businesswoman. Take the mask off and maybe we can have a general idea of who it is that you are.
Part of me sympathizes a little bit for her because who wants to be the woman that the world hates or wants to fail? Even though I disagree with a big majority of what she says, when you have the world up against you, it’s tough.
Anchor #9, Tulsa, Oklahoma:
I have not seen an episode in its entirety, but I did look up those big controversial moments. The Will and Grace thing was the big one and the Jane Fonda insult. That said, I have heard a lot of buzz about her trying to be groomed into the next Oprah. I think everyone would agree that there is no next Oprah.
In terms of a show that’s trying to, I guess, speak to the everyday American woman, whether she’s in middle America, in the Midwest, East Coast, I don’t know that Megyn Kelly is making that transition that well. Oprah struggled with weight issues and struggled with abuse, and she had so many points where people could relate to her. What I know of Megyn Kelly is she worked at Fox News and has had a pretty nice life. What struggles has she had that are going to make the audience believe her and trust her, is my big question.
In that time slot, there are going to be a lot of stay-at-home moms watching. She’s going to have to figure out what key areas she can connect with her audience on. In one interview she did with a couple, [the husband was] having an affair, [the wife] found out about it and took him back, and they worked through their stuff. I think that’s great. Her background in politics is great, but that is a lot different than the lady you want to sit down with and have coffee and be your best friend.
There are so many people on the Today Show that have built up their audience that could have had their own show. Tamron Hall [left] and people were upset about that.
I’m assuming no one just lives their lives only talking about politics, never smiling, never laughing. So I’m sure that’s part of her personality somewhere, but the viewers, even if they only know her from Fox News, only know that one side of her. It takes time for people to warm up to that. In order to turn her show around, she needs more authenticity, more transparency, and also I’ve noticed that she doesn’t have the best guests.
After the whole Will and Grace thing, I was thinking maybe she can’t get the guests that people would want to see. These are natural growing pains for any production, but she’s under a bigger microscope just because of how she is coming into it.
Anchor #10, New York City:
It’s terrible. Painful to watch. Doesn’t match her strengths. They should end it, give it back to Tamron and Al and cut their losses.