Psst, Megyn Kelly: I know what you did last summer. And last year. And the year before that.
NBC’s attempt to give the former Fox News host an extreme non-partisan makeover got off to a bumpy start earlier this year, as Kelly’s primetime newsmagazine “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly” drew fire for lackluster chats with Vladimir Putin and Alex Jones, both controversial figures intent on undermining American democracy.
It was a lose-lose situation for Kelly, who has alienated both sides of the political aisle: The left, by years of race baiting on Fox News; the right, by disavowing those Fox years (ironically, just before racism became a cornerstone of the new presidential administration).
Kelly had a lot of baggage to unpack in her move to 30 Rock, which made Monday’s premiere of “Megyn Kelly Today” all the more awkward. Kelly opened the show by trying to recast herself as a cheery morning show host: “The truth is, I’m kinda done with politics for now,” she said. “It’s everywhere and it’s gotten so dark.”
Hmm. In case Kelly forgot what contributed to the dark nature of modern political discourse, Sunday night’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” put together a handy recap of her role in it:
It’s hard to reconcile the dismissive, alarmist Kelly from Fox News with the self-proclaimed “Will & Grace” megafan as depicted on “Megyn Kelly Today,” which makes things even more confusing. Who is Megyn Kelly?
Kelly herself tried to reframe her narrative, kicking off the show by giving a bit of history about herself. (Well, sort of. She never mentioned “Fox News” once.) It was perhaps the most honest part of the show, as Kelly recounted the death of her father when she was just a teenager, and how the memory of her dad still plays a large role in her life. Kelly’s mother was also in the audience, lending to that touching moment.
But the rest of “Megyn Kelly Today” remained a bit unfocused. Kelly promised a politics-free zone — right when, quite honestly, the only thing people are talking about is politics. “If my producers and I do our jobs, you will find out what you need to know today to get yourselves through the day,” she said. But when the headlines are consumed by the threat of losing healthcare, the threat of a North Korean nuclear attack, and the threat of climate change deniers, that’s a disconnect.
NBC News lured Kelly to the network with a well-publicized $18 million annual salary, and if they didn’t want that Fox News Megyn Kelly and her ratings, it’s unclear what they were going after. They paid her that sum, presumably, because Kelly did have a certain draw — and yet they’re putting her in entirely unfamiliar ground. “Megyn Kelly Today” so far doesn’t appear to be all that different from any daytime show with a studio audience.
Much of Day 1 was devoted to a “Will & Grace” segment that perhaps was timely (the show returns this week), but still smacked of NBC product integration. (Day 2’s big guests: The cast of “This Is Us,” another Peacock property.) Kelly raved about what a big “Will & Grace” fan she was, and recounted the plot to her favorite episode, and yet — do we believe her? Maybe? Perhaps we’re through the looking glass, but it’s hard to know what to believe anymore.
Kelly caught plenty of grief for trying to joke with a “Will & Grace” superfan, selected from the audience to win a visit to the show in Los Angeles, but it was more awkward than offensive. And perhaps that’s the takeaway from “Megyn Kelly Today” in general: An awkward attempt to scrub Kelly’s offensive past.