UPDATED with Megyn Kelly’s on-air statement: Today’s news that one of Fox News Channel’s biggest primetime stars is jumping to NBC News took some by surprise. Before this morning’s fast-and-furious announcement on the first day back from New Year’s vacation, money had been on Megyn Kelly moving to CNN, or possibly ABC.
NBC said this morning it had signed a multiyear deal with Kelly, for an undisclosed dollar amount, to host a not-clearly defined daytime news and talk show, a Sunday evening newsmagazine and also to contribute to NBC’s political coverage and other big-ticket events; no mention was made of MSNBC.
NBC News did not say when Kelly would start, but Fox News did say — after NBC delivered the word — when Kelly would exit: Friday.
“After more than a dozen years at Fox News, I have decided to pursue a new challenge,” Kelly said tonight in closing out her Fox News Channel show, The Kelly File. She made the “tough decision,” deciding she needed more “connection” with her three children, she said. “So I’ll be leaving Fox News at the week’s end and starting a new adventure, joining the journalists at NBC News, who I deeply admire.” She said she was “very grateful to NBC for this opportunity.”
In its so-long announcement, Fox News Channel did not say with what it planned to fill its 9 PM hour that’s been home to the second-most watched program in all of cable news, contributing much to the network’s calendar-year finish as most watched basic cable channel. It’s presumed that FNC will replace Kelly in the timeslot with another female host, lest it wind up with “a lot of males, back to back” — what with Tucker Carlson recently getting O’Reilly’s lead-in timeslot, upon the departure of Greta Van Susteren who, incidentally, is speculated to be heading to MSNBC.
(And, according to New York Magazine’s Fox News Channel expert Gabriel Sherman – who, in one of those incredible coincidences, also was recently signed by NBC News as a contributor – top candidates to replace Kelly in FNC’s 9 pm slot include Trish Regan, Martha McCallum, Shannon Bream and Sandra Smith. Sherman also reports Kimberly Guilfoyle is lobbying for the spot.)
NBC News, meanwhile, is welcoming one the most talked-about TV journalists of the 2016 election cycle. Kelly became the target
of GOP candidate Donald Trump’s highly personal attacks in televised interviews and on Twitter after she challenged him, while moderating the first GOP debate, to defend his demeaning descriptions of Rosie O’Donnell and other women over the years.
That’s quite a switch in storylines for a news division known these days for giving an hour of its flagship morning show Today to a man with whom Trump got caught on hot-mic critiquing the physical attributes of various female NBCU employees and Trump’s ability to grab women by the crotch with impunity.
Kelly cut quite a swath on her way out at Fox News Channel, just a few months after making herself a major player in the exit of network founder and chief Roger Ailes. Kelly was the most high profile of the women who alleged Ailes had sexually harassed them, in the course of the investigation launched by Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox after former Fox News Channel host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes in July.
The internecine brawl over her role in Ailes’ exit spilled out onto the street while Kelly was touring the TV landscape, talking up her book, Settle for More, in which she addresses the incident.
Out plugging his own book, Bill O’Reilly told CBS News, “I’m not interested in making my network look bad,” to which Kelly shot back that she thought it was Ailes who’d made the network look bad. O’Reilly also told his Factor viewers: “If somebody is paying you a wage, you owe that person or company allegiance. If you don’t like what’s happening in the workplace, go to human resources or leave.” O’Reilly’s contract also runs out in 2017, and news of Kelly’s exit triggered speculation Trump pal O’Reilly would stick.
“I am deeply thankful to Fox News for the wonderful 12 years I have had here,” Kelly said tonight at the wrap of her program. “I have grown up here, and been given every chance a young reporter could ever ask for. The Murdoch family has been kind and good to me at every turn. And my colleagues are like a second family to me.”
The lack of program details in this morning’s announcement had some industry pundits speculating Kelly might be NBC News’ much higher-priced Josh Elliott. Back in 2014, NBC News successfully wooed Elliott away from ABC’s Good Morning America in an effort to ding the show that had ended Today’s ratings streak. But NBC News never figured out what to do with Elliott, who since has moved to CBS News. Similarly, some industry execs speculate, NBC’s hire of Kelly delivers a blow to MSNBC competitor FNC; now NBC has to figure out exactly how best to deploy her.
In today’s announcement, NBC News said that, as part of the multiyear agreement, Kelly will anchor a new one-hour weekday program that she will develop with the news division for a TBA timeslot. Kelly also will anchor a new Sunday evening news program and contribute to the network’s political and special events coverage.
NBC did not specify a timeslot for the daytime talker, leading to some chatter as to whether Kelly would take over a Today hour, given the difficulty these days of getting affiliate stations to turn over a slot to a network. “It’s very hard to launch a daytime show right now,” one source said, joining others who seemed dubious today that Kelly could succeed where Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, Meredith Vieira and Jane Pauley had failed to get daytime viewers to watch a news-oriented talk show.
21st Century Fox reportedly had offered Kelly $20-$25 million a year in an effort to keep her. NBC News, which recently re-upped Matt Lauer for about $20M per, reportedly signed Kelly for slightly less, which still makes her among the highest-paid on-air talent in the industry.
“The price point makes this bewildering,” one industry veteran said this afternoon of the hire. “It’s hard to imagine how you monetize this.”
The network is “now going to figure out what to do with her,” the exec added. “Everyone [at NBC News] will be unsettled for a while. That cannot be comfortable.”