Megyn Kelly has officially split with NBC, taking the reminder of her $69 million contract with her, but leaving behind any aspiration of becoming the next queen of talk-show TV.
“The parties have resolved their differences, and Megyn Kelly is no longer an employee of NBC,” the company said in a statement Friday evening.
Both sides have been wrangling over the fine details since her show, Megyn Kelly Today, went off the air in October.
NBC first hired Kelly in January 2017, fresh off of a contentious election year that saw Kelly swept into President Donald Trump’s orbit of insults. Her eye-popping contract deal — $69 million over three years — was an astonishing sum even considering her considerable profile, having left her hosting gig at Fox News after 13 years with the network.
Kelly reportedly wanted to “help people the way Oprah did.” By design, her pivot to a daytime talk show avoided the type of adversarial coverage that made her name (“I am kind of done with politics for now,” she said before her show launch).
It was meant to be a blend of news and lifestyle segments, set before a live studio audience at the 9 am time slot to roll the Today Show into its third hour of the morning. Instead, flailing ratings, reports of behind-the-scenes infighting at the network and a series of headline-grabbing gaffes allowed Kelly’s lucrative deal with NBC to turn sour.
Kelly does not have a non-compete clause in her contract, meaning she’s free to attempt a television comeback as she pleases. But given her history, it’s hard say she ever even had a chance to be the next Oprah.
Gaffe after gaffe showed a lack of compassion toward her guests and audience
Part of what raised her profile in the first place as a media darling for Fox News was her sharp, often confrontational interview style. When confronted with that stance, for instance, Trump resorted to remarkably crass and sexist tactics to demean her intelligence and stature — most notably onstage at a 2015 presidential debate when he said Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever.” Yet Kelly emerged on the other side as a strong female journalist who was walking away from Fox News as it was becoming buried under sexual harassment suits, and standing up to a bully who reviled the press.
That was the brand Kelly was hoping to capitalize on in her transition from political firebrand to the everywoman for daytime audiences, but it was rocky from the start. Her show was an almost immediate flop, where time and time again, Kelly was caught passing judgement on her own audience and guests.
Within the first week, Kelly shamed Jane Fonda by asking about the pressures of plastic surgery for women in the entertainment industry — instead of the new movie the actress was there to discuss. She insulted an audience member by saying they “became gay” after watching the TV sitcom “Will and Grace.” Then months later, she praised the efficacy of body shaming, saying her stepfather’s insults about her body were what helped her stay slim.
The final nail in the coffin for her show was a defense of blackface, when she ignored the practice’s long discriminatory history, asking, “What is racist?”
Not all morning talk-show hosts need to have an apolitical angle — for some, political divisions are a defining facet. Yet the frequency of her gaffes — adding to her long history of tone-deaf and racially-offensive remarks — are a constant reminder of the it factor she lacked. It’s not just charm, but compassion.
Oprah revolutionized the talk show industry by making vulnerability and compassion a priority on her show. Nearly eight years after the Oprah Winfrey Show went off air, Oprah remains widely popular and perennially finds her name on Democratic wish-list of celebrity presidential contenders. Rather than shy away from politics, as Kelly is doing now, Oprah is leaning in with full force.
Oprah created a talk-show that put everyday Americans at the forefront of her show. Instead, too often, Kelly found herself the center of the story.