Good Evening
Good Evening
EntertainmentColumnistsVerne Gay

Megyn Kelly's debut hits Fox News Channel

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly poses at the

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly poses at the anchor desk at the Fox studios in Manhattan. (March 6, 2012) Credit: AP

In the largest overhaul of Fox News Channel's prime-time lineup since its 1996 launch, Monday night Megyn Kelly will become anchor of a new 9 p.m. show, "The Kelly File," while "Hannity" moves to 10. "On the Record" with Greta Van Susteren moves to 7 p.m.

Why now and why Kelly? To the questions...

So, why is this happening?

Ratings. "Hannity's" have declined -- even FNC's 5 p.m. show, "The Five," occasionally has more viewers (just over 2 million last Monday, for example to "Hannity's" 1.78 million.) Through the first three quarters of 2013, FNC's full-day ratings among viewers ages 25 to 54 have declined five years in a row. Ratings went up at CNN this year. That, too, has set off alarms.

Who exactly is Megyn Kelly?

The 42-year-old upstate native, mother of three, and Albany Law graduate, practiced in Washington, D.C., but was, by her own admission, miserable. She ended up at the ABC affiliate there as a reporter, arrived at Fox in 2004, where she anchored a morning program with CNN refugee Bill Hemmer, then went solo on a two-hour afternoon show, "America Live." She's well known to viewers of "The O'Reilly Factor," home to a weekly segment, "The Kelly File."

Her on-air style is supremely confident, occasionally strident, brash and feisty. She's clearly smart and can be a bit of a smarty-pants too -- especially when it comes to legal matters. While hardly an ideologue, she's not an outrider at FNC, either -- a political conservative who doesn't always wear her politics on her sleeve. She even upbraided Karl Rove on election night, as he fumbled around with some numbers that appeared to indicate a Mitt Romney victory in Ohio: "Is this the math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better. . . ?"

Of greater importance, she brings something to FNC's prime time that it has never had before: sex appeal. "Leggie Meggy" is how some smitten bloggers have referred to her, and Kelly, a fashionista, has seemed to welcome the blandishments, even promote them (Howard Stern interviews, a GQ photo spread).

How does Bill O'Reilly figure in all this?

He has to be thrilled. Never chummy with Sean Hannity -- exact opposite, in fact, if you believe long-standing industry gossip -- he appears to have been a big supporter of Kelly (whose show won't be all that different from "The Factor": interviews, even the occasional pop culture detour). But Kelly is also part of the future. FNC has been so successful at grooming homegrown prime-time stars that it forgot how to groom new ones. She should redress that.

How does Shepard Smith fit into the new world order at FNC?

"Shep," as he is known to one and all, has been recuperating from shoulder surgery and returns Monday in a new afternoon program with a new name. But as chief news anchor, he'll also "insert" breaking news into prime-time shows. Is this all part of an apprenticeship for his own prime-time program? Smith received numerous offers to leave FNC but chose to stay -- presumably not to "insert" news briefs on occasion. Fox has big plans for Shep.

Who wins, who loses in the shake-up?

Winners: Besides Kelly and Smith, certainly O'Reilly -- his protege, after all, now has the show that will follow his own. And while he may still have the best hair on TV news, the loser is Hannity. His show, "Hannity," was so noisily pro-Romney during the 2012 election that it didn't hear the Obama express until he was run over. But while Monday night's shift suggests the centrists have prevailed over Fox's most visible right-winger, that's a superficial read. After all, Hannity still has a radio show heard by millions, and a prominent 10 p.m. berth. This is mostly about the future (see above), and the hope that viewers won't bail after "The Factor" ends.

More Entertainment