Was Megyn Kelly always doomed at NBC?

Megyn Kelly is heading to the exit at NBC. But did she ever have a chance trying to transform her Fox News persona in today's stratified media climate?

Posted: Jan 13, 2019 9:31 PM
Updated: Jan 13, 2019 9:34 PM

Two years after she signed with the network amid much fanfare, Megyn Kelly and NBC have officially parted ways.

The split was announced on Friday ending a drawn-out and acrimonious exit that was put in motion in the fall after Kelly defended Halloween costumes that incorporate blackface during a segment on her 9 a.m. talk show.

"The parties have resolved their differences, and Megyn Kelly is no longer an employee of NBC," the network said Friday night.

Talks about ending "Megyn Kelly Today" started before the blackface remarks, due to underperforming ratings and growing tensions between Kelly and NBC executives. But the Halloween controversy sealed her fate, according to sources familiar with the matter. Her talk show was cancelled within days, and her lawyer began negotiating the terms of her exit.

Kelly is halfway through a three-year contract worth a total of $69 million -- an eye-popping sum even by the inflated standards of television news.

Bowing to the terms of the contract, NBC will pay Kelly the remaining sum of money, believed to total about $30 million, two of the sources said.

Kelly will be subject to an industry standard nondisparagement clause, limiting what she can say about her time at NBC and her interactions with NBC executives. Television contracts typically include language to protect both sides in the event of an ugly breakup.

But representatives for the host and the network declined to comment on the exact terms of her exit.

Kelly is not believed to be subject to any "noncompete" clause, which means that in theory she can join another network right away, the sources said.

But Kelly does not currently have an agent, and there is no indication that she has another job lined up.

When approached by celebrity photographers on the street in New York City on Thursday, and asked "will we see you on TV this year," Kelly said. "You will definitely see me back on."

A representative for Kelly declined to comment further.

Friday's announcement marks a premature end to a partnership that ultimately failed to elevate the anchor's stature and the network's ratings. And the hostility surrounding her departure stands in sharp contrast to the optimism that greeted her arrival at NBC in January 2017.

After 12 years at Fox News, Kelly was one of the most sought-after stars in the television news world, drawing interest from a number of networks. Fox reportedly offered her a new contract worth more than $20 million a year, but Kelly was eager to shed the combative style she honed at the conservative network.

"Barbara Walters has retired," Kelly told Variety in 2015, when she was still at Fox. "Oprah has moved to the OWN network and is doing a different thing now. So why not me?"

At NBC, Kelly hoped she would be able to fulfill the softer role she had long envisioned for herself. The network had ambitious plans for Kelly, handing her hosting duties for a Sunday evening news magazine and the 9 a.m. hour of the "Today" show. But the marriage was awkward from the jump.

"Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly" was poorly received and ended after a short run in the summer of 2017. And "Megyn Kelly Today" was defined by disappointing ratings and awkward moments, with the host sometimes seeming ill-suited for the bubbly world of morning television.

Kelly won plaudits for aggressively covering cases of sexual misconduct when the #MeToo movement became an international story in late 2017.

But her coverage -- especially of the case involving "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer -- rankled some of her colleagues.

This contributed to tensions between Kelly and NBC executives, including NBC News chair Andy Lack, who invested tens of millions of dollars in her hiring.

Last September, Kelly publicly contradicted part of Lack's account about why NBC opted not to air Ronan Farrow's reporting about Harvey Weinstein.

By that point, there were already questions about how much longer Kelly's 9 a.m. show would last. She had few allies inside NBC, and more than a few detractors.

Her lowest moment came on October 23, when she led an on-air discussion about offensive Halloween costumes.

Kelly said it was acceptable when she was a kid to don black face "as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character." And she defended a reality TV star who took heat last year for dressing up as Diana Ross.

"And I don't know, I felt like who doesn't love Diana Ross?" Kelly said. "She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day. I don't know how, like, that got racist on Halloween."

The backlash to Kelly was swift and immediate, exceeding the outrage she generated for her remarks years ago about Santa's race. Kelly apologized to her staff that afternoon. And she apologized on her show the following day, saying "the country feels so divided and I have no wish to add to that pain and offense."

Many of her "Today" show colleagues were not satisfied. Kelly drew forceful on-air denunciations from Al Roker and Craig Melvin, two African-American hosts on "Today." And Lack condemned Kelly's comments at a town hall, a clear sign that she had lost the support of the executive who helped woo her to the network.

She didn't appear on the network again. Three days after her blackface remarks on air, NBC announced that it had canceled "Megyn Kelly Today."

Talks about the terms of her exit soon turned contentious, with Kelly's attorney Bryan Freedman accusing Lack of leaking details about the negotiations. NBC fired back, saying the network had respected the confidentiality of the process while Freedman has "repeatedly commented to the media throughout the negotiations."

Both sides then reached a quiet resolution, which was announced on Friday night.

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