NBC’s hiring of Megyn Kelly reshapes its talent lineup in a way that the network news unit has not seen since Brian Williams was removed from the “NBC Nightly News” anchor chair more than a year ago.
Since Williams’ departure, NBC has been a news division with different fiefdoms, with Matt Lauer serving as the face of “Today,” and Lester Holt leading “NBC Nightly News” and “Dateline.” Lauer and Holt have split many of the major anchor duties during the campaign, with Lauer interviewing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during a town hall early in the general election, and Holt serving as one of the official presidential debate moderators.
Kelly is now a very big star entering a solar system built around these smaller planets. Her new projects, the primetime program and the daytime news show, do not fit neatly into anything currently on the air at the channel, and may take some resources away from existing projects.
There is a distinct possibility that Kelly’s primetime Sunday show replaces an hour currently occupied by Holt’s “Dateline,” and the easiest way for her daytime show to get on air quickly would be to take over one of “Today”s four hours. Broadcasting & Cable's Paige Albiniak reported Wednesday that Kelly is in line to take over "Today"'s third hour at 9 a.m. That hour has been somewhat in flux since host Billy Bush was ousted in the wake of the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape where Bush and President-Elect Donald Trump were caught making lewd comments about women.
If anything, it is likely that NBC is still trying to figure out their plans for Kelly too.
“What exactly she will do at NBC, I don’t quite understand,” said “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Charlie Rose, in an interview with POLITICO. “ I haven’t talked to [NBC News chairman Andy Lack] or her about what it is going to be, what will they do on Sunday night, what the daytime show is going to be about. I don’t know more than what I read, and I don’t think they know yet. Knowing Andy, I’d bet he opened the conversation with her by saying, ‘well, what do you want to do?’”
Kelly’s versatility, as a debate moderator, as an anchor and as a host, is firmly established at this point. One question NBC will need to grapple with is how political they want her to be, and how political she wants to be. Her Fox primetime special certainly touched on politics (it featured an interview with Donald Trump, after all) but also featured some segments that could easily work as daytime fare – interviews with actress Laverne Cox and celebrity lawyer Robert Shapiro.
"She is a really versatile performer. I could see her, if they ever had a vacancy at the Today show, I could see her in that very, very comfortably,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “One could see her doing anchoring roles. She could certainly do the discussion things. So she's a versatile character that NBC could use in a lot of different ways, as they have needs, and they could sort of feel out how they're going to transition her from being a Fox personality to being a, let's say, not-Fox personality.”
In addition to Holt and Lauer, Kelly will face competition for the big interviews and event coverage from "Today" co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, herself a former lawyer and a veteran of cable news like Kelly; she’s also a former White House correspondent. There’s also “Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd, and of course, former “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, currently in the midst of his TV comeback, anchoring special events for MSNBC and the show “The 11th Hour.”
Aside from the “Today” show on the daytime side, Kelly will find herself in the company of entertainment talk shows like "Steve Harvey" and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and panel shows like "The View" and "The Talk."
Much still seems to be in flux in NBC’s deal with Kelly, including when she starts her new role. Though her last day at Fox is on Friday, Kelly’s contract with Fox News runs through the summer.
In the immediate aftermath of Kelly's hiring, NBC stars like Guthrie and Todd have expressed excitement on Twitter, as have some insiders internally, for the hiring coup. But now the hard work begins.
“I am not surprised by the choices she made,” Rose said, but he also highlighted the risks. “I don’t think it is a certainty. Nothing in this world, and especially television, to use a famous phrase, is a slam dunk.”
Additional reporting by Kelsey Sutton