The gentle softening of former Fox News warrior Megyn Kelly is proceeding apace—the television-star equivalent of tenderizing a veal cutlet with a meat mallet—in preparation for Monday’s launch of NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today.
Aside from a homey People magazine profile (“Megyn Kelly Left Fox So She Could Watch Her Kids Grow Up: ‘I Hadn’t Tucked Them Into Bed on a Weeknight in 3 Years’, ” reads the headline), Team Kelly has been booking her on a variety of NBC broadcasts this week (including Access Hollywood, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon) to spotlight the 46-year-old former litigator’s emotionally available and lighthearted side.
The network has also been airing soft-focus promos in which the $17-million-a-year mother of three muses that her big-ticket new venture might help unify an “incredibly divided” nation.
Kelly has also been a hovering presence on the Today show in recent days, brought to sit around and speak as folksily as possible on all matter of topics.
On Friday, co-host Kathie Lee Gifford was absent from the Today show’s fourth hour so Kelly and Hoda Kotb sipped Ketel One vodka and soda out of tall glasses, and traded gossip about ex-boyfriends.
At one point, Kelly admitted that when she was dating her now-husband, novelist Douglas Brunt—whom Kotb kept calling “hunky” and “so good looking”—she once hurriedly stuffed photos of him and a former girlfriend into her purse so that he wouldn’t realize she’d been rooting around in his personal effects when he walked in on her in the bathroom.
Thus the Peacock Network has ramped up to DEFCON 1 this week, with Kotb and nearly everybody else at 30 Rock and NBC’s more than 200 local stations being pressed into service to complete Kelly’s transformation from hard-edged political impresario and Donald Trump scapegoat to approachable, down-to-earth daytime soul mate.
“It’s almost like that’s a ‘before’ and ‘after’ moment for me in my career,” Kelly said after Kotb showed a clip of Kelly’s Wednesday Ellen appearance, in which she donned a sumo-wrestler fat suit to flip pizza dough in a mock cooking segment, and, at DeGeneres’s command, performed an ungainly comic dance up and down the aisles of the studio audience.
“This,” she’d confided to Ellen’s audience of laughing and hooting young women, “is not my Edward R. Murrow moment.”
DeGeneres also scooped the most publicity out of the encounter, by stating plainly she wouldn’t have President Trump appear on her show. Kelly appeared gently incredulous when DeGeneres stated this, while DeGeneres’ audience whooped its total support.
Ahead of Kelly’s takeover of the venerable Today franchise’s fun and female-friendly third hour—replacing the decade-old and now-cancelled Today’s Take with an Oprah-like extravaganza featuring a live studio audience—top executives of NBC’s parent company Comcast have given her new show a “Symphony Gold” designation, meaning that it carries the highest corporate priority and every Comcast employee is supposed to be working to ensure its success, much like orchestra musicians pulling together to play Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
Kelly’s arrival, after being wooed away from Fox by NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, has been both high-risk and disruptive—resulting in the cancellation of Today’s Take, on whose final episode Kelly also appeared Friday (giving Al Roker not one but two wet smooches), and prompting the abrupt and indignant departure last February of Today’s Take anchor Tamron Hall, who is currently trying to put together her own daytime talk show to be produced by the Weinstein Company.
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An internal NBC memo, obtained by The Daily Beast and not previously reported, demonstrates the lengths to which the network is going in order to afford Megyn Kelly Today every possible advantage.
The memo, sent in mid-June to “NBC Affiliate General Managers/Corporate Group Executives” by Jean Dietze, NBC’s president of affiliate relations, directs NBC-owned and affiliate stations to give up lucrative minutes of local advertising during Kelly’s 9 a.m.-to-10 a.m. time slot so that the network can sell the spots and pocket the revenue, thus rendering Megyn Kelly Today’s balance sheet significantly more favorable than it otherwise might be.
The stations are also being required to cede a bit less local time to the network for Today’s fourth hour,” which features Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford.
Written at a moment when Kelly’s premiere had originally been scheduled for Sept. 5, Dietze’s memo informs the stations that “the amount of time allocated to local news cutaways in the third and forth hours of the Today show will be reduced by 6:30 (six minutes 30 seconds) in the 9am hour and 1:30 seconds (one minute 30 seconds) in the 10am hour.”
It’s unclear how much of the reduced local time would have been for commercials vs. editorial content, and NBC News declined to provide a breakdown. Friday’s final episode of Today’s Take, which was operating under the new formula, clocked 21 minutes of national advertising compared with two minutes of local ads.
“The obvious goal is to free a lot more inventory for the show to sell, so they can make more top-line revenue,” said television advertising consultant Adam Armbruster, noting that Kelly “didn’t come cheap.”
A veteran network news executive and daytime television producer, who spoke on condition of not being named, said it’s unusual if not unprecedented for a network to grab more than six minutes from its affiliates in a single hour of programming.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” said the exec. “It seems like they’re taking both advertising and editorial time…I can’t imagine that there wasn’t some pretty hard negotiations or some blowback for this. That’s a lot of time to take away in the mornings.”
The financial impact would be more significant on the big-market NBC-owned stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago than on small-town NBC affiliates, but “you’re not going to have a fight there when Andy Lack gets [Comcast chairman] Brian Roberts to say yes to something like that,” the exec said. “It’s ‘Look, we’re doing this. Tough shit. Deal with it.’”
Although precise numbers were not available, the cumulative loss of revenue to the major-market NBC-owned stations could amount to seven figures, and while they’re subsidiaries of the same company, they are also accountable for their individual bottom lines.
Calls to the general managers of the NBC stations in Chicago and Los Angeles, along with a call to a PR rep for the stations, were not returned, and NBC spokespeople declined to speak on the record.
Meanwhile, Dietze’s memo also requires several NBC News programs on the network—notably Today’s second hour, Nightly News, Meet the Press and Dateline—to cede advertising time back to the local stations in order to compensate the affiliates for their revenue losses. The formula arguably puts some financial pressure on the network shows by forcing them to give up revenue.
“As a result, and in exchange,” Dietze wrote, “NBC Affiliates will receive:
+ 1 Today Show 30 second unit Monday thru Friday between 8:30 & 9AM
+ 1 Weekday Nightly 30 second unit each week (not daily – will be Tuesdays to start)
+ 1 MTP 30 second unit each week
+ 1 Friday 2-hour Dateline 30 second unit.”
Kelly’s Sunday prime-time magazine show, which stopped airing this summer earlier than expected after drawing disappointing ratings and unwelcome controversy involving a segment featuring pernicious conspiracy theorist and InfoWars founder Alex Jones, was to give back 30 seconds of network advertising time to the affiliates.
“We believe that most local inventory concerns have been addressed by our work with your [Affiliate] Board,” Dietze wrote, adding, “It’s important for NBC and NBC Affiliates for Megyn Kelly to launch strong and we think the new format will help in that regard.”