After months of speculation, Megyn Kelly announced yesterday that she was leaving Fox News for an expanded role at NBC News. While the news wasn’t totally unexpected, the details of her new role at NBC are a little surprising.
Kelly, whose show on Fox News is the second-most-watched program in cable news, has become a bonafide star at Fox, rising from commentary and fill-in anchor roles to her own prime time program during her 12 years at the top-rated cable news network.
At NBC, Kelly will host her own daytime show, plus some type of news show on Sunday evenings, as well as provide commentary on breaking news—all roles that would be more suitable for someone who, according to news reports, wanted to spend more time with her children and not tie her up every evening.
Yet, as friendly as her new work schedule will be for her children, it is fraught with risk for Kelly. She is leaving a job that paid her very well—Fox reportedly offered her $20 million a year to stay—and one where she was threatening to eclipse Bill O’Reilly, to one where the field is littered with failures of those who tried to broaden their reach beyond into daytime TV, like Anderson Cooper, Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric. The same thing could happen to Megyn Kelly if she doesn’t get off to a fast start.
Couric is probably the best-known example. She had a very high-profile job hosting the Today show, only to leave for what she thought would be more fame and fortune. She got the fortune part right, as CBS News paid her $15 million a year to anchor the Evening News. Then, after flopping in that role, she tried her hand at daytime television only to see her show canceled after two seasons. And now she is at Yahoo! News, where she hosts a little-watched online program.
Kelly may well avoid the fate of Couric, Cooper and Vieira, but it’s hard to envision at this time how the hard-news skills she honed at Fox News will transfer to daytime television, which tends to be more entertainment oriented than news oriented. The other x-factor will be how the conservative-leaning Kelly will be treated by her more liberal-leaning colleagues, and how she will handle being in a less friendly political environment.
Also, if NBC News chairman Andrew Lack thinks that Kelly’s Fox News audience will flock to NBC, he will likely be disappointed. Daytime and prime time viewers have different viewing habits and tend to be loyal to specific networks, not personalities—think Couric, whose popularity plummeted after she left NBC, while the Today show continued to thrive for several more years.
Megyn Kelly is far smarter than Couric, but if NBC fails to maximize her talents, then she will probably not fare much better than America’s former sweetheart.