NBC, as expected, made a big deal unveiling its new golden girl, Megyn Kelly, to the packed room of prospective advertisers and the media community at its recent upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall in New York. "What a great time to be at NBC. I’m here! "I’m psyched," beamed Kelly standing next to Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie from "Today," Lester Holt from the "Nightly News" and Chuck Todd from "Meet the Press." "And I am doing the kinds of broadcasts I always dreamed of being able to do."
But the impression I got was that there is a complete disconnect between the NBC News veterans and their new co-worker.
Kelly’s upcoming weekday 9 a.m. ET show, which launches in September, will "inform" and "empower people to help them settle for more in their lives," according to Kelly. But still minus any specific details from NBC—will this be the official third hour of "Today" or a standalone morning hour—I just don’t think the network knows what to do with her. NBC is rumored to not be selling ad units for the show due to the uncertainty of the format.
I worry this will be yet another example of a news personality that goes sour by trying to be someone she is not. And I am convinced that her new morning hour could be the biggest fiasco in the NBC News division since the Jane Pauley/Deborah Norville debacle in 1990. Norville was perceived as the "other woman" when she joined "Today," resulting in a mass defection of the target older female audience after Pauley exited. And Katie Couric, that ray of sunshine, stepped in and saved the day. But Couric took a major misstep in 2006 when she headed to CBS as the anchor of its "Evening News" and the network decided to make it more of a feel-good telecast. Her then role at ABC, including a syndicated daytime talk show that was as appealing as watching paint dry, was equally short-lived. And now, at Yahoo News, her profile is sorely diminished.
Anderson Cooper also quickly learned how difficult it is to attract the target female audience in daytime. His syndicated talk show, "Anderson," featuring the CNN news anchor taking a much lighter approach, limped along from 2011 to 2013. And, just last year, when the suddenly softer and more congenial Kelly hosted her first—and last—primetime special on Fox, there was no audience interest. If anything, this should have been a major warning sign for NBC to steer clear.
Naturally, NBC would like everyone to believe its news division with Megyn Kelly is one big happy family. But Tamron Hall bolted in February after learning Kelly would be taking over her 9 a.m. hour this fall. Al Roker, always a presence at the NBC upfront, was nowhere to be found. And rumors of Savannah Guthrie also being in potential jeopardy are also circulating. While NBC’s goal was to convince the audience of its new connection with Kelly, I just don’t see, Kelly, synonymous with Fox News, as comfortable in a coffee klatch setting this fall. Do you?
After the upfront, NBC confirmed Sunday, June 4 at 7 p.m. ET as the debut date for her primetime newsmagazine, "Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly." It steps in for "Dateline" and faces iconic "60 Minutes" on CBS, which is temporary since "Sunday Night Football" returns in the fall. From the first available on air-promo, it generically touts the host’s "sharp, strong journalism and the power of NBC News." And it gives the former Fox News personality exposure on the network prior to this fall. But deteriorating HUT (Household Using Television) levels after Memorial Day weekend will likely limit the tune-in NBC is hoping for.
Kelly’s pending entry to the morning daypart is expected to be a daily live one-hour broadcast with a studio audience taped at Rockefeller Center. Unlike her primetime show this weekend, which is expected to tap more into her news background, the tone will likely be more Oprah and less combative, with the lifestyle format of "Today." And it will likely lead into Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb remaining in the 10 a.m. hour of "Today."
"NBC was looking for something; they thought Megyn Kelly was the something and almost immediately Tucker Carlson comes in, takes over her former hour on Fox News and blows the numbers away," noted Rob Russo, president of RNR Media. "But, speaking as a salesperson for a long time, I don’t think NBC is not selling her morning show. We have all been in those situations where we were selling shows we were clueless about. If anything, they could be capitalizing on the hype. But if the expectations fall short of the hype, NBC could be issuing a lot of make-goods."
With "Today" and "Good Morning America" currently sharing dominance in the morning daypart ("GMA" was first in total viewers and "Today" No. 1 in adults 25-54 in May), the trick is to build on the current audience while not damaging the franchise. But with so much attention given to Kelly, NBC runs the risk of "fixing" a show that is not broken.