Megyn Kelly to fix nonexistent problem at 'Today'

Is NBC doing what's best for its morning franchise, or just finding a place for its pricey new celebrity?

Do you ever get the feeling that you, the audience, know more about how to cast a program than the networks themselves? Maybe that's because you understand the show more than they do.

I am referring, of course, to the abrupt exit of Tamron Hall from NBC's "Today" show franchise to make room for Megyn Kelly.

Sure, the move was predictable given the price NBC is paying for Kelly, which is estimated to be around $15 million to $20 million. But has the network really considered the price it could pay for making this particular change at this particular time?

In a statement, NBC referred to Hall as "an exceptional journalist," and said it entered talks to renew her contract. "We hoped that she would decide to stay. We are disappointed that she has chosen to leave, but we wish her all the best."

NBC, it's worth noting, also considered Ann Curry "exceptional" when it unceremoniously dumped her. The same was true of Jane Pauley when NBC decided to oust her for the crime of getting some wrinkles. Since Kelly and Hall are both 46, we can give NBC a pass on this age discrimination front this time. But I do have to say it feels particularly odd to lose Hall in place of Megyn "Santa Claus is white" Kelly at a time when diversity on television is such a hot-button issue.

"Tamron Hall broke ground as the first black female 'Today' co-host and was enjoying ratings success alongside Al Roker during the show's third hour of programming," said the National Association of Black Journalists in a statement. "NBC has been a leader for diversity in broadcasting, but recent reports that Hall and Roker will be replaced by former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly are being seen by industry professionals as whitewashing."

If Hall really did leave of her own free will, where was the official, on-camera goodbye? And what does this mean for Roker's future, or Savannah Guthrie's? Just as Couric replaced Deborah Norville when she was on maternity leave, Guthrie could conceivably lose her show, or be downgraded to later in the morning, in favor of the higher-profile Kelly. And given the history of "Today" show sniping, there's every chance that its older audience might perceive Kelly as the "other woman," much as they did Norville when she arrived alongside Jane Pauley. 

More to the point, given the recent ratings for the three morning network news shows, why does NBC even need Kelly on "Today?"

Just last week the network put out a ratings release touting "Today's" 17th straight month topping morning daytime among target adults 25 to 54, and its best January demo win over ABC's "Good Morning America" in five years. It also boasted about "narrowing the gap" between the two shows by 63 percent, with a deficit of just 107,000 viewers at present (versus 290,000) last season, according to Nielsen.

"Week-to-week, 'Today' added 72,000 adult 25 to 54 viewers and improved its lead over 'GMA' by 11 percent," it read.

Like "The Tonight Show" before it, when NBC felt the need to bump Jay Leno to primetime and replace him with Conan O'Brien, one wonders what good could come from changing the dynamic of a series on the upswing. And I question whether Kelly, with her background in hard news and even harder opinions, will be the right fit on a bushy-tailed magazine show.

It doesn't take a broadcasting genius to recognize the appeal of Kelly. She was the "golden girl" at Fox News, with her 9 p.m. ET weeknight hour perennially topping the cable news nets. She was, perhaps, the most recognized newscaster in the recent presidential election, and gained newfound credibility when she refused to fall in line behind Roger Ailes after Gretchen Carlson blew the whistle on his harassment. And now, her best-selling memoir, "Settle for More," has helped complete her journey to a full-fledged brand.

But is NBC really thinking of "Today" here? Or is this just a matter of the network finding somewhere to park its pricey new star? And if that's the case, why did they shell out seven figures for her in the first place? Just to get her away from Fox?

Unless NBC has plans to use Kelly to beef up MSNBC or CNBC, I just don't see the need for her on the network. And I'm not sure they do either.

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