EXCLUSIVE: Megyn Kelly is off the air and heading toward the door at NBC, but it looks like any exit won’t be as smooth as the former Fox News Channel host may have anticipated. Over the weekend and today, increasingly intractable NBC News boss Andy Lack has made it clear in talks with Kelly’s reps that a hefty payout for the rest of her $69 million contract is a non-starter, well-positioned sources tell Deadline.
“A lot has changed in the last year and this isn’t looking like a ‘Here’s your check, let’s call it a day’ resolution now,” a network insider said Monday, noting the Megyn Kelly Today host’s latest stumble last week with her ill-considered blast-from-the-past on-air defense of “blackface” Halloween costumes as the final straw in her stint at the network, which began just more than a year ago.
“This crossed a line for us and no one wants to reward what was unacceptable behavior by Megyn or anyone else,” says another source at the Comcast-owned company, even though a tearful Kelly apologized on-air the next day. As initial disentanglement talks between NBC and attorney Bryan Freedman commenced Friday, Kelly’s 9 AM ET show was formally canceled as the uproar over her comments continued to rise.
Adding to the flux of negotiation drama, Lack is still feeling the sting from his protective handling in the 2015 Brian Williams wrist-slapped lying scandal and the long-standing harassing behavior of now ex-Today co-host Matt Lauer, whom Lack pink-slipped in November of last year. Hard questions about Lack’s judgment have also come up regarding Ronan Farrow being warned off pursuing his investigation sexual assault and sexual harassment claims against Harvey Weinstein. Eventually, Farrow walked away from NBC News and took his efforts to the New Yorker, where he pulled back the curtain on the now-disgraced Oscar-winning producer and his crew of facilitators and intimidators. Farrow’s articles resulted in a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.
“Andy sought out Megyn for NBC with big ambitions,” the network insider offered Monday as part of the underpinnings of how much of the two-thirds of Kelly’s contract may or may not end up on the table . “He feels betrayed by her personally.”
“There is no other way to put this: I condemn those remarks; there is no place on our air or in this workplace for them,” Lack curtly told a NBC News town hall on October 24, just over 24 hours after Kelly’s original comments. Even with that, the fact is even if the blackface remarks hadn’t been another example of Kelly putting foot in mouth, the ratings struggles of her early-morning show had already put the stink on it moving forward.
Kelly had been a huge success on the then-Roger Ailes-run Fox News Channel after getting her own afternoon show in 2010, and graduated to primetime with the much watched The Kelly File in 2013. After several public dust-ups with insulting candidate Donald Trump and sexual harassment scandal-engulfed FNC that saw the much-accused Ailes depart in the summer of 2016, Kelly turned down a big pay raise and new contract to hang her shingle elsewhere.
That’s where talks with Lack became more focused and, in early 2017, Kelly made a formal shift to NBC. Once the non-compete clause in her FNC contract came to an end in June 2017, the host kicked off things with the primetime Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly and, in September of that year, Megyn Kelly Today debuted.
With the exception of a surge of guests spotlighting sexual harassment in the media industry delivering a ratings lift to MKT late last year, from the get-go things never really took off for Kelly at NBC.
Now it is all a matter of how it will end, and how soon that will official come. Sources tell me things could shift depending on how hardball both sides are willing to go to avoid the public display of legal action.
Neither NBC News nor reps for Kelly responded to request for comment from Deadline today. (Full disclosure: attorney Freedman worked for Deadline’s parent company PMC in the past.)