Megyn Kelly needs no introduction to American viewers, but the debut of her one-hour morning show spent far too much time celebrating the show’s arrival and showing her off to viewers. It opened with Kelly recounting an anodyne, maudlin version of her life story (and pitching her book, of course). And midway through, there was another long segment in which “Today” veterans showed her the ropes behind the scenes. If you were dying to see Kelly flip the contents of a frying pan with Matt Lauer, this frenetic show had you covered.
All of this introductory material was largely strained, and frankly unnecessary. Most viewers know who Kelly is, not least because earlier this year, NBC itself aired her interview program “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.” Before that, of course, she was an anchor on Fox News and a favorite target of Donald Trump — before cozying up to him in a poorly received prime-time special that did little to enhance her reputation as an interviewer or journalist.
What “Megyn Kelly Today” should have done, right out of the gate, was give viewers reasons to return tomorrow — and the days and weeks after that. But those reasons were difficult to find.
In fairness, part of the problem is that NBC clearly does not know what to do with Kelly, who was lured to the network with a eye-popping deal worth an estimated $17.5 million a year. “Sunday Night” was bland when it wasn’t giving a platform to con men like Alex Jones, and on “Megyn Kelly Today,” the host was so buried under cloying anecdotes and “cute” moments (her husband was in the audience and gave her roses!) that any appeal she might have naturally had was buried by carefully stage-managed artifice.
Eventually, she did get down to the task at hand, and the show featured two long segments. But in an interview with the cast and creators of NBC’s own “Will & Grace,” Kelly never established a relaxing rapport with them. The four actors on the show are quite adept at improvising funny moments, which they managed to do a few times, but Kelly remained far too wedded to her talking points.
Granted, not all TV hosts enjoy interviewing celebrities, and it’s deceptively difficult to connect both with interview subjects and those watching at home. But out from behind the anchor desk, Kelly came across as out of her element. Many moments and interactions felt forced and contrived, rather than diverting and breezy.
In a later segment on a nun who works with young people and bereaved mothers in a low-income neighborhood in Chicago, Kelly again never quite connected with her subjects. The pre-taped piece had little depth — its talking points (i.e., the city is a “war zone”) reinforced a skewed and incomplete picture of Chicago as a place full of random gun violence. To be fair, the morning hour isn’t quite the time for an in-depth piece reminiscent of “60 Minutes,” but Kelly’s piece didn’t even clearly explain the origins of the nun’s ministry or the goals and methods of her organization.
Kelly noted that “Will & Grace” helped America accept “the gay thing” but she also said she is “kind of done with politics for now.” How convenient for her. The problem is, a very specific and polarized political moment allowed Kelly to ascend to prominence.
For now, and certainly for “Megyn Kelly Today,” Kelly has opted to put on hold her persona as a politically minded anchor, which is of course her right. But that is exactly what brought her to the attention of NBC News and to daytime TV.
The debut of “Megyn Kelly Today” stored that baggage away in a dark place. And her daytime show may grow into something worth seeking out, but as of yet, it has not supplied much of merit in place of that baggage.