Why Megyn Kelly's NBC show is a flop

After making a name for herself at Fox News, in large part thanks to her headline-making feud with Donald Trump, Megyn Kelly was courted by NBC and offered a reported $23 million per year to bring her star power to the Peacock Network. This made her the highest-paid anchor at NBC following Matt Lauer's departure, but unfortunately, courting Kelly may not have been a smart investment. 

Her first attempt at success, a Sunday night news magazine dubbed Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, debuted in June 2017 and soon proved to be a flop. Come September, the network moved her to a daily talk show-style gig during the 9 a.m. slot of Today. That series, Megyn Kelly Today, once again failed to bring in viewers and ratings plummeted at lightning speed, fueled by countless controversies.

Let's take a closer look at all the many reasons why Megyn Kelly's morning show has been a total disaster.

She announced she was 'done with politics'

Viewers tuning into NBC for the debut episode of Megyn Kelly Today in September 2017 were greeted with a surprising announcement. A few seconds into her first episode, Kelly declared that she would be leaving behind the politically-charged coverage folks had come to expect from her. 

"The truth is, I am kind of done with politics for now," she said in her opening monologue. "You know why. We all feel it. It's everywhere and it's gotten so dark and I'm just, like, over [it]."  

The unexpected decision garnered a slew of criticism. The New York Times called the the new Kelly "awkward," and Page Six claimed even network insiders were confused by the shift. "They spent all that money on this great political anchor and journalist — if you take those things away, what are you paying for?" an insider quipped. What's more, because Kelly's show took over the 9 a.m. Today slot previously hosted by Al Roker and Tamron Hall — two well-liked anchors — the source speculated that it would "be seen as a waste of Al and Tamron" if their replacement's ratings were anything but stellar.   

NBC tried to change her

Kelly's pledge to avoid politics apparently did not sit well with viewers. During its opening week, Megyn Kelly Today went from having 2.93 million viewers on Monday to just 2.4 million by Thursday. According to the Los Angeles Times, that figure was lower than the 2.8 million average the original 9 a.m. slot of Today received during its 2016-2017 season.

According to former Good Morning America host Lisa McRee, the tepid response was caused by NBC's efforts to change Kelly's tone and reporting style. "Rather than melting her down and recasting her, I think they should have left her for the most part who she is," McRee said. "Let her do more serious news. Let her do crime stuff."

To make matters worse, not only did the network apparently try to change Kelly, but it did so without having a real vision of what the revamped journalist would look like. According to Variety, when producers flew to Los Angeles to meet with publicity firms and try to land A-list guests for the series, "the team didn't seem to have a clear direction of the show they were pitching."

Debra Messing dissed her

Kelly became the subject of major scrutiny on her very first day on the job when actress Debra Messing declared that she regretted her appearance on the show.

When the former Fox News anchor welcomed the cast of Will & Grace to her studio for her inaugural episode, fans undoubtedly expected to be treated to a fun, joke-filled segment. Instead, they were met with a seriously cringe-worthy exchange between Kelly and a superfan from the audience. "Is it true that you became a lawyer — and you became gay — because of Will?" Kelly asked.

When Messing was later asked about the awkward moment on Instagram, the actress wasted no time setting the record straight. "Honestly I didn't know it was MK until that morning," she said. "The itinerary just said Today show appearance. Regret going on. Dismayed by her comments."

She traded punches with Jane Fonda

Just 48 hours after she was dissed by Messing, Kelly caught more heat when she asked actress Jane Fonda about plastic surgery instead of focusing on the movie the actress was there to promote.

"I read that you said you felt you're not proud to admit that you've had work done. Why not?" Kelly said. A visibly upset Fonda fired back, "We really want to talk about that now? Let me tell you why I love this movie we did, Our Souls at Night, rather than plastic surgery."

During subsequent interviews, Fonda skewered Kelly's professionalism. "It wasn't like I was upset. I was stunned," she told Variety. "It was so inappropriate. It showed that she's not that good an interviewer."

Rather than letting the matter go, Kelly pushed the story back into the spotlight when she decided to clap back on the air. "Look, I gave her the chance to empower other women, young and old, on a subject which she purports to know well and she rejected it," Kelly said. She followed up her defense with an attack on Fonda's patriotism. "Many of our veterans still call her 'Hanoi Jane' thanks to her radio broadcasts, which attempted to shame American troops." After that low blow, Kelly concluded, "I have no regrets about that [plastic surgery] question, nor am I in the market for a lesson from Jane Fonda on what is and is not appropriate."

A cuss word heard 'round the world

And the hits just keep on coming! After Kelly was thrown under the bus by Messing and Fonda, it seemed like things couldn't possibly get any worse for the brand new talk show and its host … but they did.

On her fourth day broadcasting, Kelly disappointed fans by airing a celebrity-free show, despite having previously promised an interview with actress Edie Falco. Even so, the last-minute scheduling change likely would not have made headlines were it not for an embarrassing technical mishap. 

Right as Kelly was in the middle of interviewing American soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Carli Lloyd, a cameraman accidentally walked into the frame. He realized he was in the shot, and rather than silently jumping out of the way, swore under his breath. That whispered "sh*t" was heard loud and clear on live TV.

Celebrity publicists are staying away

A few weeks into the show's existence, fans may have noticed something important missing from the mix: celebrity guests. According to Variety, the lack of star power was the result of A-list publicists actively avoiding the trainwreck Megyn Kelly Today was proving to be. 

"I'm not booking anyone on her show," an anonymous rep told the mag. "I literally haven't pitched anyone even from right out the gate. The buzz that is out there is so bad." 

Another publicist, who did have a client appear on the show, added, "I won't plan to have others go on. None specifically have been offered or asked to, but it'll be my preference not to."

Yet another industry insider was undecided but said, "What I have seen so far hasn't been great. I am open to see how she does and if there is improvement, then I would more likely book. I am just not sure what type of celeb interviewer she is. She's awkward at the moment." 

Others blamed Kelly's politically-charged past for their hesitation. "I don't even know if it's as much her as it is Fox News," another source said. "Because she came from Fox News, she was set up for failure because the industry is so polarized now and no one wants to touch anything associated with Trump."

The show may create a 'toxic' work environment

In January 2018, Kelly's show continued making headlines for all the wrong reasons when one of its writers, Kevin Bleyer (who previously won Emmys for his work on The Daily Show and even did a stint as a speechwriter for President Obama), claimed he was fired because he openly complained about verbally abusive behavior from top-level executives.

According to the Daily Mail, Bleyer sent a note to human resources highlighting various abuses and was let go soon after that. "The executive incompetence continues, as does the dysfunctional management, abusive treatment, maddening hypocrisy, staggering inefficiencies, acidic and deficient communication, and relentless scapegoating," Bleyer reportedly wrote in his message to HR. "…As a result, veteran staffers are looking for the exits. Others have told me they'd ask to be re-assigned elsewhere within NBC." 

An NBC rep denied Bleyer's claims, saying he "was let go for one reason only: he was the wrong fit for this role, as a comedy writer at a morning news broadcast."

The network is shunning Kelly

Between the drama and the low ratings, Kelly's home network seems to be giving up on her. The cold shoulder became painfully evident when NBC made the eyebrow-raising decision to exclude Kelly from its 2018 Olympic delegation. While countless Today anchors and producers flew to Pyeongchang, Kelly stayed home. 

Although it's not clear if this was her decision or the network's, the move was strange nonetheless because NBC, which spent a whopping $1 billion for rights to broadcast the Games in the United States, normally assigns all of its biggest stars to cover the action, reported Fox News. "This is incredibly embarrassing for Megyn," an insider said. "Anybody who's anybody at NBC goes to the Olympics." 

The Hill columnist Joe Concha backed up that sentiment: "It is odd that NBC News would leave its highest-paid host at home. Megyn's ratings are improving a bit as the show has focused on the sexual harassment issue, but she could still use the kind of exposure and interviews you only get when physically at the Olympics."

It was a long time coming

There's something to be said for learning from one's mistakes, but neither Megyn Kelly nor NBC seemed to do that as it transitioned from one flop to another. When Kelly first made the move from Fox to NBC in June 2017, she was reportedly offered the help of a huge hype machine to ensure that Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly would be a success. Alas, a success it was not.

Despite debuting with 6.2 million viewers, ratings fell quickly and even with all the buzz surrounding her third episode, which featured an interview with controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the series hit an all-time low of only 3.5 million viewers. After just eight of the ten scheduled episodes aired, the series went on hiatus, with Kelly announcing, "That's all for tonight, and for the summer run of this program." 

Instead of reading the signs, the network moved her to the morning shift and was faced with the same reality of low interest and low ratings. It wasn't until March 2018 that NBC seemed to finally take note of Kelly's shortcomings, revealing that Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly would only air "periodically" through the fall. Too little, too late? Only time will tell.