NBC “TODAY” Show host Megyn Kelly 2.0 feared the early bad reviews, but knowing that could happen doesn’t make the avalanche of brutality coming her way any easier. Even she couldn’t have predicted the mountain of hell that would descend upon her by the time her first talk show wrapped.
WATCH MEGYN KELLY VS. ALEX JONES:
If Kelly had undergone a psychological evaluation, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. Which is watching an extremely talented, accomplished broadcast journalist throwing her strengths into the trashcan and fighting hard to become an entirely different human being.
“This is her personal rebound,” a longtime media insider told The Mirror on condition of anonymity. “She was really wounded at Fox News. She felt she got attacked by Donald Trump and didn’t feel that the channel supported her. They [Fox News] got squirrelly. She felt abandoned, betrayed and totally fucked over.”
That resentment turned into rage. And a new job at NBC was born.
“It was never about politics with [President] Trump,” the media insider said, recalling the question she asked at the first presidential debate in Cleveland when she asked Trump about treating Rosie O’Donnell and other women like bimbos. “She just thought he was a pig. Fox viewers got so fucking upset with her because they thought it was an unfair question. TV is very emotional. It’s all about emotions. She goes to Roger Ailes as a father figure and says ‘You’ve got to defend me.’ But he didn’t really. And she fucking got him fired. This whole thing, it’s about her rage that they [Fox News] didn’t defend her.”
When Kelly fled Fox News in 2016, she did so in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against Fox News President Roger Ailes, who has since died. She said she wanted to spend more time with her family, which is the one excuse no one ever buys because it’s consistently not true.
“NBC doesn’t care about your kids,” the media insider continued. “They hate kids. All the women are at each other’s fucking throats. The reason [this new show] is not her is because she’s reacting against the pain she felt at Fox.”
Everyone knows the news business is notoriously nasty and backstabby. When NBC hired Kelly, they effectively killed the hour once filled by Tamron Hall and weatherman Al Roker. Insiders were flabbergasted because it was an hour that was actually doing well in the ratings. Hall walked. Roker wasn’t happy about it.
Sources say Fox News really wanted to keep Kelly. They offered her a sweet $100 million over five years. She could have all the time she wanted with her family. She could tape her show. She could take Fridays off. “You want to fly your kids to the studio in a helicopter?” the media insider quipped, noting Kelly could’ve had any damn perk she wanted.
The deal she took: $17.5 million annually as opposed to $20 million to stay put.
In the past several days, I’ve pestered my best media informants to unravel what is happening here. Why are the reviews so bad? Why is she failing before she begins? Why was she the hottest thing in media just a year ago and headed straight for Siberia now?
And why do we care?
In the HBO drama Billions, Bobby Axelrod, a rich as fuck Hedge Fund manager, has a workplace shrink on board at all times to save him from his own worst instincts and blind spots. Granted, he meets her in a pool naked to make sure he can trust her, but Kelly could have warded off disaster with perspective from someone who could dig through her psyche.
By the way, there’s no shame in therapy. Tony Soprano had a therapist. So did ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who wrote about it in his memoir All Too Human. NBC brass went to a psychology consultant in 2014 to find out why then “Meet the Press” host David Gregory wasn’t connecting with viewers. (Okay, fine, that one’s a little shameful.)
Aren’t people allowed to recreate themselves?
In theory — maybe. Everyone knows someone who has left the rat race to travel, care for ailing parents, become a life coach, a barista or a greeter at the Gap.
In Kelly’s case, one answer seems to be that her public knows her better than she knows herself. And for some reason that pisses us all off.
“I mean she’s not white Oprah and she’s never gonna be,” a TV source told me in a lengthy phone conversation about why reaction to Kelly’s new show is already so vicious. “I’m sure that’s her aspiration. Oprah can be tough and warm and whatever. I don’t know why you’d try to brand her … make somebody who was beloved for being a badass a cream puff? I just don’t get it.
“Here’s the truth about Megyn Kelly,” the media insider confided. “She’s talented and she’s tough as shit. That is real. She’s a really hard chick. She could have done a really great show. Like everything in life, you have to know who you are and you have to live it. She’s tougher than any man I know. She’s smart. She’s not stupid. She’s fucking good, man. She’ll barbecue you. That could be a good show. Megyn Kelly ‘s got bigger balls than you do. ‘America’s Toughest Interviewer.’ That’s the show she needs to do because that‘s real. She should do a ’60 Minutes” competitor where she takes over Sunday night. She gets Donald Trump and she can say whatever the fuck she wants.”
The Megyn Kelly at Fox News was inherently likable. She commanded a sort of awe that most people in the business only hope to achieve in a lifetime on the job.
“I thought she was a refreshing voice on Fox because she didn’t seem like a total partisan hack,” the TV source said. “I thought she was refreshing for that network. I don’t think she’s necessarily likeable. I think she was a hot, no bullshit cable news star. Nobody wants to wake up with Megyn Kelly unless she’s your husband or you went home with her. You want to wake up with Kathie Lee Gifford, who’s still drunk from the night before, because she’s not confrontational or edgy and because you’re drunk, too.”
We’ve seen what Kelly is capable of — which is a ruthless, tough TV litigator.
“Why closet that skill?” a Washington editor asked incredulously. “She got drunk on the heights she reached but never credited the vehicle.”
This new Kelly is too soft, too wounded, too painfully touchy-feely — kind of like trying to watch Hillary Clinton be warm and personable because she was “likable enough” or Al Gore have a personality that doesn’t resemble a robot or Barack Obama wear a beige suit. We all wanted Kelly to dust herself off and get back in the ring where she belongs — not settle into a happy baby yoga pose and coo about how she’s not going to discuss politics. “I’m kind of done with politics,” she declared on Day 3. But the damage is done and many think all we have left to do is sit back and rubberneck the car crash.
“She made her own mess,” the media insider said. “But I still feel sorry for her.”
Washington Post TV writer Hank Stuever pulled out butcher knives to handle Kelly’s first day on the job. It took him all of an hour to declare her the “Bride of Frankenstein” and her entire show a complete flop.
She shared about her father dying when he was 45. Stuever, who may not have blood coursing through his veins, had no sympathy — instead, he chewed up her sad little girl woes and spit them out just for sport.
“She talked vaguely about her incredible journey from one network (which she assiduously avoided naming) to NBC and how the spirit of her father, who died when she was a teenager, was somehow involved in this miraculous intervention of contracts,” he wrote. “Isn’t that fascinating? Don’t you feel so much closer to Kelly already? No?”
Journalists on Twitter can be exceptionally mean.
“The only way Americans could ignore Puerto Rico any more would be if it was on the Megyn Kelly Show,” cracked John Fugelsang, a host on PageSixTV.
Sopan Deb, a culture writer for the NYT, remarked, “It doesn’t get much more brutal than @hankstuever’s review of Megyn Kelly’s new morning TV jaunt.”
ESPN’s Jemele Hill, who recently called Trump racist, reminded people that Kelly once said Santa Claus is white. “I’m also old enough to remember when she set the record straight on Santa,” she wrote.
Emily Jashinksy, a commentary writer for Washington Examiner, suggested viewers could learn to like Kelly 2.0. “It’s possible she didn’t care and wanted to pursue the dream gig whether or not it suited her strengths, teaching viewers to like her,” she said.
Matthew Gertz, a senior fellow at the liberal Media Matters, got in his dig: “Megyn Kelly made her career promoting hate and fear, and now wants to rebrand herself as the bringer of optimism and hope.”
Her husband — who Kelly emphasized is not a “TV person” — rose from the “TODAY” Show TV audience and gave his TV wife a gorgeous bouquet red roses. “They hugged each other woodenly, as if they’d just met,” Stuever said, knifing her again (and again and again). The move felt contrived even if it was an alleged surprise.
Just as awkward: In a pre-show ad, she tried to connect with regular couch people by admitting that she worries about making big mistakes with her kids.
And maybe to be funny, she also said she worries about her dog urinating in her apartment.
But none of it was terribly funny, touching or relatable. It was phony through and through.
WaPo‘s Stuever certainly didn’t give a flip about any of it.
And he’s just one of many media writers who are strangling Kelly’s momentum before it even gets off the ground.
On Sunday, CNN media analyst Bill Carter appeared on “Reliable Sources” to give his dismal take on why Kelly’s show won’t work — and that was before her show even aired its first breath. He said she needed a co-host. He said she needed a completely different format — and mentioned Diane Sawyer. She‘s the right mold for the future Megyn Kelly, he said. Not the one that’s before us. While Carter wasn’t clear on specifics, his doubt about whether she could swim in these new, scrutinizing, shark-infested waters was palpable.
Does she deserve such a vicious review for a program that is four hours old? I’m honestly not sure. But the phenomenon of media spectators who are out for her blood and don’t want her to succeed at this new Oprah-like gig are reaching a swell that’s worth investigating.
One thing that is particularly disturbing for people in the media industry is Kelly’s determination to take a scalpel and cut politics out of her show. On her first day, she explained to her audience that politics is boring and they will not be dissecting Trump’s tweets. She wants to laugh. Occasionally shed tears. WHAT?!?!
Is this Kelly’s version of cutting herself?
“She doesn’t understand that it’s 2017 and everything is political,” the media insider explained, growing more exasperated with a hint of real anger. “Everything is political. NFL is political. Nothing is not political. What she misses …what she is really is saying is I don’t want politics anymore. But the thing is you’re not in charge of fucking history. You can’t control the moment you’re living in. Silly girl. You can’t change that we’re in the most political moment since the civil war.”
The TV source said the rollout of Kelly’s show was wrong in every way possible and compared it to a chef who offers diners raw food that could make you sick.
“It was just such an awkward stumble out the door,” the source remarked. “I think NBC’s rollout was completely wrong. The biggest hiccup is they shoved her onto the main stage and allowed the public to sample her before she was ready.”
There were those failed interviews Kelly conducted with Russian Prez Vladimir Putin and InfoWars‘ Alex Jones for her Sunday night magazine program.
“The Putin interview was kind of a debacle,” the TV source said. “Wearing that crushed velvet dress, I think people turned on her. She was a journalistic hero. People didn’t turn on her because she went to NBC — they turned on her because of what happened between Fox and now.”
The Jones interview was especially thorny. When he sensed that Kelly was going to screw him over and try to make him look like a monster, the wild, conspiracy-crazed, right-wing newsman with the voice of pure gravel became venomous and released their recorded phone conversations. Jones had the same problem with her that her current critics do — she was acting like a phony, making promises she never intended to keep. And he was going to impale her for it.
“For me personally, it was with Alex Jones where she basically said ‘hey, I just want to be your friend,’ the TV source recalled. “You tell a conspiracy theory hack that you just want to be his friend and you don’t want to make him look bad? Putin was a big mistake. He made her look like a little girl. Putin, most despised by mainstream America in a time where Russia is being blamed for the outcome of the election? She wasn’t hard on either one of those guys.”
Beyond Stuever’s butchering is the wince-worthy incident with actress Debra Messing, who already regrets appearing on Kelly’s premiere show. That was Monday. It’s Wednesday. Messing said she didn’t realize Kelly would be her interviewer, insinuating she might not have agreed to it had she known.
The actress was miffed because of Kelly’s bizarre question to a “Will & Grace” superfan — she jokingly asked him if the show made him gay.
NBC is not Fox News. You can’t joke about gay people having a choice in the matter.
“Honestly I didn’t know it was MK until that morning,” Messing wrote on Instagram. “The itinerary just said Today Show appearance. Regret going on. Dismayed by her comments.”
On Wednesday, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda came on her show to promote their new movie, Our Souls At Night. Kelly managed to offend Fonda by asking the 79-year-old about “work” she’s had on herself over the years. If this was the old Kelly — the ruthless badass from Fox News — fine, we might accept that with open arms. But Fonda just ran right over her and didn’t answer her question, which only made Kelly look like a complete female shaming buffoon.
Even Canadian’s former Prime Minister Kim Campbell piled on. “I think Megan Kelly is an ass and Jane Fonda exposing her for the lightweight she is was wonderful!” she wrote on Twitter. “You can take the girl out of Fox..,,, ;)”
Freelancer Yashar Ali (HuffPost, New York Mag) skewered Kelly by simply stating what she said during her third show: “Megyn Kelly just asked Lyle Menendez, in an interview by phone from prison, if he has any joy in his life.”
In another critique, Ali wrote, “Megyn Kelly calling Robert Redford ‘Bob’ while interviewing him seems odd. Only his friends call him that.”
As industry insiders see it, Kelly has psychologically played this all wrong. She brought no producers with her from Fox News. “That’s insane,” the media insider said, explaining that Kelly needs people she can trust to tell her about herself, to watch over her and slap her if the need arises.
There’s already talk of what happens if the Megyn Kelly experiment fails.
“I won’t be surprised if they move her out,” the TV source said. “Anyone with half a brain can tell it’s not a good spot for her. I don’t know what they do for her. Do they give her Dateline? I don’t know that anyone accepts her right her now.”
Politicians need constituencies. But so do TV hosts, really. And Kelly’s has crumbled.
“Here’s the reality. Fox viewers feel betrayed by her….for Roger, for leaving FNC,” the media insider explained. “They feel she fucked them over. Liberal viewers see her as a Fox News host. She is totally without a constituency. You need a constituency.”
Can she possibly repair this?
“There’s literally no chance,” the media insider said. “And I’m actually rooting for her.”