The conventional wisdom, especially within the news media, is almost always wrong. This reliable reality may be the only real reason why I am hesitant to conclude that Megyn Kelly’s new hour of the Today Show is going to be a disaster.
After all, since most commentators have seemingly already concluded that this is the most likely outcome, history tells us there is very little chance of that actually turning out to be true. This specific situation, however, may be the exception which proves the rule.
Having seen most of Kelly’s many promotional efforts for today’s premiere of her much-hyped new show, as well as the initial broadcast itself, this is the only conclusion to which a rational and logical person can come. She is simply trying too hard to be something she clearly is not, though I admit to even being now confused as to what she really is to begin with.
This is a woman who, for thirteen years, used her strong legal background, sharp wit/interviewing, good looks, and conservative bent to become a shining light while doing a very serious show at Fox News Channel. During the 2016 presidential campaign, she reached the level of a legitimate national celebrity after being attacked by Donald Trump during the critical first GOP debate and then anchoring most of the network’s primary coverage.
She then interviewed Trump for a highly anticipated (and poorly watched) prime-time special and anchored the Fox News election night coverage where she helped announce Trump’s shocking win. After using her new-found status to land a lucrative deal with NBC, her first guests on her failed Sunday night show (of just a couple of months ago) were Trump favorites Vladimir Putin and Alex Jones.
Now Kelly suddenly tells us that she is done with politics because it doesn’t interest her?! And her first interviews for the Today Show? The Kardashians, and the cast of the NBC sitcom remake of Will & Grace.
Huh? What the heck happened in such a very short period of time?
I get that humans can sometimes evolve and that as a media personality you have to remold yourself to fit the nature of the target audience. But what has happened with Megyn Kelly makes some of the transformations of Madonna or Lady Gaga’s seem rather tame by comparison.
The promotional lead up to Monday’s first show set a new standard for desperation. Each promo almost literally exuded estrogen in a frantic, obviously focused-grouped, attempt to show stay-at-home moms just how much Kelly is like them. The message seemed to be, “See, she’s rich, beautiful, famous, got attacked by our president, has kids and lady parts… just like you!”
The over-the-top efforts of the rest of the NBC Today Show staff to welcome her to their TV family have been so contrived as to make them appeared provoked by serious threats from the corporate suits who overpaid for Kelly’s services and are now very invested in trying to salvage this possibly doomed maneuver. However, it all feels like they are trying too hard to sell fancy cat food to a public which usually has an uncanny ability to smell inauthenticity, and may very well simply turn up its collective nose.
In fact, lack of genuineness seems to be biggest problem Kelly’s new show has. I doubt many of her old fans from Fox News will find her complete shedding of, and overt disdain for, her former persona and subject manner appealing. Nor will they find her attempt to be the combination of Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres (wrapped in the package of a pretty, straight, white woman) appealing. I also doubt the new “MSM” viewers are likely to completely buy this new, super soft, version of her any more than MSNBC loyalists took to Trump supporter Greta Van Susteren (who lasted only a few months there).
Putting aside its poorly matched host, the nature of the show itself appears to me to be unsustainable. It is produced like a show that requires an enormous amount of resources, effort, and planning. Giving “birth” to five of them per week is going to be both expensive and grueling, especially in comparison to the same hour’s old format (which did decently in the ratings) of simply talking about whatever the multitude of hosts found interesting at that moment.
Kelly claims that her goal of this show is to be “uplifting” (good luck with that), but finding legitimate “feel good” stories is absolutely impossible to plan for five days a week. Today’s version showed the folly of that effort when they crammed the honoring of a Chicago nun into the very end of the show, scheduling eight guests while allotting less than two minutes for them to actually speak.
There simply won’t be enough high-profile guests or compelling stories no one has heard before to carry a show five days a week in an environment when the news cycle is now about 45 minutes long (just ask Katie Couric). Kelly is a news-oriented person who has now effectively taken news totally off of her table, while now trying to adjust to a format for which she lacks the natural charm or sensibilities to pull off, and for which there may very well not be a large enough audience to make it viable in the long run.
This whole thing just feels like trying to take an NBA All-Star center and, in middle age, turn them into a Kentucky Derby winning jockey. Even if it doesn’t all end in a nasty crash, the horse carrying them is sure to get tired real fast.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.