Daily daytime television is all about establishing a comfy atmosphere where viewers can go to enjoy a warm personality and have a few laughs. By this measure, the premiere of Megyn Kelly Today on Monday morning was no success. Having become a star on Fox News by projecting steely authority, Kelly is now trying to show her softer side, but it manifests itself as intense squishiness. Kelly commenced her new show by delivering a monologue designed to elicit sympathy. She talked about her father’s death when she was young, how she’d put herself through law school, and how much she loved her mother. To prove this, she pointed to her mother, who was sitting in the audience. And her husband. Her husband, also in the audience, “surprised” her with roses. Kelly told us that she has a “mission”: “to deliver hope and inspiration and optimism and empowerment.” The camera moved in for giant closeups of her face during this opening statement. The effect was at once overwhelming and off-putting. Enough! Enough! We get it — you don’t want us to remember you made your fame pumping up false emergencies about voter fraud or insisting that Santa Claus should be white.
“I am kinda done with politics,” Kelly announced on her morning premiere. “It’s gotten so dark” in the country, she said, obviously alluding to the Trump presidency. Other daytime talkers, like Ellen DeGeneres and Steve Harvey, don’t have to acknowledge the news world that exists outside of their comfort bubbles. Kelly, however, felt it necessary to give a nod to her own dark past, given her Fox News past and her status as the object of a couple of Donald Trump’s more vulgar insults. Clearly, she wants to assure her new audience that this will be, as she has put it, “a Trump-free zone,” even though banishing politics from her show may prove to be a denial of her most effective talents as a broadcaster.
NBC did as much as it could to launch Kelly Today. The entire cast of the network’s revived sitcom Will & Grace trotted out to submit to a long but skimpy interview. (By contrast, the interview the cast did with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb in the very next hour was far more relaxed and funny.) There was a jokey taped segment about the Today hosts welcoming Kelly, complete with some omelette-making with Matt Lauer. Then the same Today show bunch — including Kathie Lee and Hoda, whose show will now depend on Kelly’s for a solid ratings lead-in— came onstage to toast Kelly with mimosas.
There was a subtext to all this. Kelly’s Sunday-night newsmagazine show, opposite 60 Minutes, is a cratering atomic bomb in the ratings. If Kelly can’t convince the largely female daytime audience that she’s a sister they can pal around with each morning, she’s going to drag down Today Show ratings overall — and you don’t want to anger Kathie Lee.
First-day jitters are understandable, and perhaps by the end of the week, Kelly won’t be contorting her face into a rictus grin. Perhaps she will allow for exchanges with the studio audience and with guests that don’t sound scripted. And perhaps daytime viewers who are giving her a try won’t switch back to Kelly’s chief competitors, Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, who are just sitting around and yakking, completely at ease.
Megyn Kelly Today airs weekdays at 9 a.m. on NBC.