As 2016 ended, Megyn Kelly’s future was far from clear. With her contract at Fox News ending this summer, she and reps were entertaining offers and playing the field, so it seemed entirely possible that her 12-year run at the cable news power could end.
On Jan. 3, that scenario played out in dramatic fashion. As those in the media business were catching up with Mariah Carey’s Times Square meltdown and picking confetti out of their hair, NBC announced it had landed Kelly. Key elements of her NBC News duties, and the lure (more than money, it turned out): a Sunday-night magazine show and a daytime talk show. While many incorrectly assumed the daytime gig would be in the syndication realm, B&C spoke with multiple sources who confirmed the plan is to have a Kelly-branded hour replace the struggling 9 a.m. segment of Today.
NBC News has declined to comment. But a network source, who requested anonymity because so many details are yet to be worked out, said the exact timing of the new morning approach is in flux. So also is the date of Kelly’s official arrival at NBC News. Her contract with Fox News runs through July, so while the last episode of The Kelly File aired Jan. 6, she may not be able to officially join NBC News until that contract expires.
Tucker Carlson, whose 7 p.m. show has been a ratings winner for Fox News, will take over Kelly’s 9 p.m. time slot starting this week.
Putting Kelly where the 9 a.m. hour of Today has been struggling, compared with the network’s other options, including replacing Days of Our Lives at 1 p.m., makes the most sense for NBC. Season-to-date from 7 to 9 a.m., Today averages 4.55 million viewers and 1.77 million viewers among the key news demographic of adults 25-54. ABC’s Good Morning America beats it in households and viewers, averaging 4.65 million viewers, but loses among adults 25-54 with 1.52 million.
At 9 a.m., Disney-ABC’s syndicated Live With Kelly beats Today in viewers, with Live averaging 3.3 million viewers to Today’s 3.08 million, and nearly ties it among adults 25-54. Having Kelly face off against Kelly Ripa could spice up the hour, and the two are acquainted with each other. Kelly took a turn as guest host on Live last fall, joining a rotation of guests that have followed the exit last spring of cohost Michael Strahan, who is now on GMA.
The current third hour of Today offers a take on the panel talk show, with Al Roker and Tamron Hall leading a discussion of pop culture and light news with multiple hosts. Last August, the hour suffered a further setback when Today brought on Billy Bush to lead the hour, and soon Bush and Roker were clashing on-air about Bush’s kid-gloves interview of Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. Bush was fired in October after a profane video leaked of him and now-President-elect Donald Trump speaking about “grabbing” women.
Today’s 9 a.m. hour straddles the more highly rated 7-9 a.m. block, anchored by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, and the more fun and fluffy 10 a.m. hour hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. The new show will not carry the Today banner but will instead be Kelly-branded, the sources said.
Putting Kelly between those two segments of Today gives Kelly’s show its best chance to succeed. That means it’s also NBC’s best shot at monetizing what is estimated to be Kelly’s $15-$20 million salary, although no numbers have yet been confirmed.
Daytime was appealing to Kelly, who has spent the past 12 years at Fox News and the past three of those doing The Kelly File live Monday through Friday at 9 p.m. ET. Kelly and her husband, novelist Doug Brunt, have three children aged 3, 5 and 7, and she has spoken of spending more time with them. The new job at NBC should allow her to be home for dinner most nights, as opposed to heading off to work as her kids come home. Home life is one thing—it’s an open question whether viewers will follow Kelly from cable to broadcast and from primetime to the morning.
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.