NBC News believed former Fox News host Megyn Kelly would be ratings gold for its “Today” show after she dared to take on Donald Trump during the 2016 election, but after only six months, the $69 million gamble on the news personality is backfiring – big time.
The network is rapidly losing viewers and ratings are in free-fall, according to the Wall Street Journal.
NBC has a $69 million contract with Kelly that lasts for three years. Since September, she has hosted the 9 a.m. hour of “Megyn Kelly Today.” But her transition to daytime broadcast TV has fallen flat, the Journal reveals, adding that her ratings drops and soaring costs of production have become burdensome for NBC.
“I need to introduce myself to people who don’t know me or know some bastardized version of me that they’ve gotten from a website or a TV show,” Kelly said, according to the paper. “There are definitely some who only know me through some caricature they learned about on ‘The Daily Show.'”
The problem has apparently prompted NBC’s affiliate stations to grow concerned about declines in viewership, and staffers at other network shows are complaining about Kelly’s large budget.
“Hollywood publicists started steering their A-list talent away from the program when a feud erupted with Jane Fonda after Ms. Kelly asked the actress on-air about her plastic surgery,” the Journal reported.
Even Kelly’s Sunday evening newsmagazine has taken a big ratings hit and is now just a prime-time special that airs only occasionally.
“NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack’s big bet on Ms. Kelly was a throwback to the golden age of broadcast news when networks routinely awarded so-called star anchors huge contracts, believing the face delivering the news was as important as the news itself,” the Journal reported.
But that’s not how network and cable television works today, explained consultant Marcy McGinnis, who spent 30 years at CBS News. McGinnis said no single person draws viewership today that would justify such a massive salary.
Meanwhile, NBC has also suffered in the wake of the sexual harassment controversy involving Matt Lauer. CBS experienced a similar situation with host Charlie Rose. Both resigned amid the scandals.
TV news analyst and consultant Andrew Tyndall told the Journal that the NBC chairman made a grave miscalculation when he hired Kelly.
“Andrew Lack made the mistake with Megyn Kelly [from the beginning] with the decision to hire her to an anachronistic celebrity contract in the mistaken belief that star quality could turn into ratings gold,” Tyndall explained.
But Lack defended Kelly in a statement to the paper, which said, “Megyn has continued to prove that she’s a tremendously skilled, hard-hitting journalist, who adds valuable insight and analysis to all she touches.”
Kelly is reportedly pulling in about 2.4 million viewers, down 18 percent from last season. In just the last two months, ratings have fallen as low as 1.9 million.
Among the show’s key demographic, those aged 25 to 54, ratings have tanked by about 28 percent since the previous season.
Even the 10 a.m. hour of the “Today” show, which follows Kelly, is suffering. That hour with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford is slumping 6 percent and is down by 19 percent among the key demographic.
The ratings slide at “Megyn Kelly Today” has given its primary competition, Walt Disney Co.’s “Live with Kelly & Ryan,” an edge over Kelly’s show, doubling its viewership lead over NBC to 747,000.
“I’m sure they were hoping it was going to do better than this,” Stacey Schulman, an executive vice president of TV consulting firm Katz Media Group, told the Journal. “She is a polarizing personality.”
But Kelly told the paper it’s only been six months, and it’s still too early to judge its performance.
“Our show is a baby. We’re six months old,” she said. “Morning TV is obviously new to me and I’m figuring it out as we go. … I think any show needs about a year to just find its footing.”