The 45-year-old-host of the “Kelly File,” whose new deal with NBC was announced this week, streaked onto the mainstream stage like a comet last August during the first Republican debate, when she had the (big league!) cojones to ask the now President-elect about his references to women as “pigs” and “dogs.”
“I don’t respect her as a journalist. I don’t think she’s very good,” Trump said, keeping the fight alive for days. He even turned it into a literal below-the-belt blood feud later on, telling an interviewer it was as if the red stuff were coming out of Kelly’s eyes and out of her “wherever” on debate night.
Some took that term to mean her hoo-ha, which was a strange way of countering her original question about his treatment of women.
Still, the continuing counter-punching with the president-to-be provided felicitous timing for the November publication of Kelly’s book, “Settle for More.” More great timing: Trump friend and Fox head Roger Ailes had been suddenly sacked in early fall after Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment. This allowed Kelly to tack on a chapter in the book about her own skirmishes with the serial groper, while never getting too specific.
This appears to be Kelly’s greatest talent — she seems to be tackling issues when she's really not. She and Trump made up later — and her follow-up on-air interview with him came off as dull and bloodless.
Yet all the attention to her unstoppable toughness added polish to the general Megyn Kelly brand, capped by the announcement that NBC hired her this week.
For the (younger) population living in the alternative digital universe, however, this mega-part Megyn announcement might be met quizzically. Some of their questions could include: “What’s a book?” “What’s a brand?” “What’s a network?” And most crucially, “What is news?
Those are obviously complicated, cosmic questions.
(Can we go with “When a rich and powerful old male media titan loves a creative female publishing entity very much, and they want to make a baby, but then there’s no ad money because of the infinite space on the Internet…) Well, I hope great minds somewhere are working on redefining (or giving new meaning to) all these ancient terms.
For now, most pundits agree that while the jury may be out about whether Kelly will be a good fit for NBC, the loss to Fox is more immediately measurable. (The network reportedly offered her a four-year, $20 million-a-year deal to stay.)
This week, the liberal media universe was also thrown off its axis by the announcement that Greta Van Susteren would join MSNBC. That night, lefty goddess Rachel Maddow welcomed Greta aboard with a lengthy, gushy, compliment-filled on-air interview and said jollily they were “old friends.”
It looks like ideas about media and identity will be malleable in the new age of Trump.
The earliest word about Kelly’s hire: She would host a daily daytime show and a Sunday newsmagazine program. Both descriptors seem odd.
Afternoon talk shows are where former anchors go to die — Katie Couric and Meredith Vieira both had that experience. (And so did Anderson Cooper, but he kept his night job.) These shows start out smart and edgy, but by the time the second or third executive producer is brought in, they end up doing desperate segments on “Fashion tips for looking thinner.”
The idea that Kelly would take over the 9 a.m. hour of “The Today Show,” however, makes much more sense, now that it has been hollowed out by the Billy Bush fiasco, again, involving female harassment and Trump.
Isn’t it ironic that Kelly would take Bush's place?
Certainly, NBC has been through numerous scandals and upsets — think about the way the network handled Ann Curry’s exit. But if NBC allows Kelly to bring on the people she wants to interview (and she gets the “gets” and stays tough), she might reinvent the hour.
Women seem as ambivalent about Kelly as they are about Trump. She’s hard to categorize: a fearless interviewer of older white men, she also defended “white Santa” and rejects the term “feminist.”
Sheila Weller, author of "The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News," says of Kelly: "She’s a complete new thing. She’s a mixed bag, and she keeps it that way. She wears those silly cocktail dresses on TV, and keeps her views on choice private. She’s mysterious. She played the Fox game until she didn’t.
"She has found her own way, some faster way, to do this, that the women I wrote about didn’t. They had to pay their dues. This seems to be similar to the way that Jennifer Lawrence as an actress found a way to vault past the crap every other woman in the category takes. She has some secret sauce that enables her to cut through. There are just certain people who make their own rules."
Clearly, Kelly played the gorgeous-prom-queen-broadcaster game at Fox well, but after a dramatic photo shoot with Vanity Fair, chopped the “Real Housewife”-style hair extensions and went with a sleeker, tougher, Hitchcock-blonde look. Added to the mystery of how this post-Fox incarnation will work, consider this anomaly: NBC is paying her megabucks, while willingly acknowledging she’s looking for more scheduling flexibility and time with her three small children.
Emmy–award-winning producer Kim Kennedy, who has worked at CNN and CBS, says Kelly has some of the same qualities on television that other blonde, Trump, has — she’s “provocative and buzzy.”
Kelly’s contract with Fox News runs through July, though, so she may not be able to join NBC News officially for months.
Until then, she’ll play it close to the vest. My money is on her morphing into a more conventional liberal type on NBC, just as sister network MSNBC goes less left.
That’s because one way or the other, Kelly knows it’s about building her own brand, her own way of remaining a star. Never mind identity politics, feminism, conservatism or leaning in. She’s finding a way to dance around it that seems oddly gender-free.
I don't know if that's progress. But for now, she is sui generis — and in her own orbit.