NBC is trying out a very expensive square peg in Megyn Kelly

NBC is trying out a very expensive square peg in Megyn Kelly
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Megyn Kelly's career path included time as a corporate attorney, a reporter for a local television station, a reporter/legal analyst forFox News Channel, and eventually, the host of a fast-paced, brawling prime time news analysis show on the same network. Nothing in that resume would suggest having a major broadcast network put her in a chatty living room setting to gab it up with celebrities in front of a morning audience. But that’s what NBC has done and the results thus far have been about as expected. 

NBC wanted to generate a buzz when they threw millions of dollars at Kelly to lure her away from FNC. Kelly was a shiny object for NBC to pursue and the network big shots relished the opportunity to lure away a trophy from FNC. She was photogenic, a ratings success, and had raised her profile as the debate moderator who was willing to antagonize presidential candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE. Once Kelly was signed to a hefty contract, however, NBC faced the very real problem of how to utilize her.

One week of morning hugging and smiling doesn’t a trend make, but the fit for Kelly in Today’s third hour already appears to be in trouble. Imagine Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly trying to do what Kelly is now being asked to do. Then, keep in mind that Kelly’s rise to fame at FNC was anchoring a program designed to appeal to an audience tucked in between Hannity and O’Reilly. NBC’s acquisition and use of Kelly looks like the Dallas Cowboys signing Tom Brady away from the Patriots and then making him the punter. 

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Kelly’s show on FNC was an in-your-face, argumentative hour focused on hard news and divisive political and cultural problems. Kelly used a blunt interview style designed to challenge the newsmakers and analysts who had the guts to take her on. Viewers who watched Kelly during that era would not recognize her now as she tries to smile, emote and hug her way through an hour. In reality, the viewers who did watch FNC in prime time are likely not in the NBC morning audience, and the Today viewers surely sense that the new edition of Kelly is simply not authentic.

 

Kelly’s awkward moments during her NBC gig have been magnified under the bright lights of a bigger and different venue. Comments that would have gone under the radar while working cable news in the evening are lightning rods once you collect huge money from a major network and suddenly have every television critic in the country evaluating every utterance.

Kelly’s odd remark that she is “done with politics” makes no sense for a personality whose entire public profile was created doing politics on a cable channel that specializes in politics. It also indicates that NBC is tone deaf to the nation’s heartbeat, which clearly is intensely focused on all matters political today. Kelly misread the setting when she wanted to address Jane Fonda’s plastic surgery when Fonda was guesting to promote an upcoming movie. Fonda got a rougher interview from Kelly than Russian strongman Vladimir Putin did during Kelly’s short-lived summer news magazine.

Then there was the on-air round of mimosas for the cast and Kelly talking about getting hammered. It wasn't particularly relatable for the audience of a morning gab fest.

Megyn Kelly is a capable broadcaster and she demonstrated that for years on FNC. That her morning show on NBC might not be able to make appropriate use of her talent is not her fault, but the fault of NBC, which has mismatched the wrong host with the wrong audience. Perhaps Kelly will adapt and grow into the role, but NBC will have to invest a lot of time patience and marketing to make it happen, if it happens at all.

In a sense, NBC is trying to do what CBS did with Katie Couric, only in reverse, where Couric was asked to move from morning personality to the somber image of CBS’ leading news anchor. The audience didn’t buy that phony transition and the CBS Evening News is still suffering. NBC should take note.

Jeffrey McCall (@Prof_McCall) is a professor of communication at DePauw University.