This is gonna be tough. But then this would be tough for any other star not named Megyn Kelly, and in fact, it already has been for Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira, Queen Latifah, Kris Jenner, even Megan Mullally, a guest on the “Megyn Kelly Today” opener — each of whom hosted daytime talk shows.
Morning TV is a beast, and one reason is that most of the available audience is in a state of lassitude, inexactitude and — for those still undercaffeinated — decrepitude. Audiences don’t always know what they want (or they’re already watching “Live With Kelly and Ryan”).
But they’re pretty certain they don’t want an interview with the cast of “Will & Grace.” There’s nothing wrong with the cast of “Will & Grace” — it’s a perfectly good one — but does Kelly really want her first day to be remembered for an extended 20-minute exercise in network logrolling? First impressions matter, while questions like “Did you feel the magic when you were back together?” rarely leave lasting ones.
Still a star and still a facile screen presence, Kelly knows how to work the camera, and the camera knows how to get the best out of her. For Kelly, and NBC, that’s the good news from Monday’s launch. Otherwise, that long “Will & Grace” cast interview was a self-inflicted injury that clouded what this new show is and can be. A closing piece on a Catholic charity in Chicago was better, but a series of obligatory welcome-to-the-NBC family stories cluttered up the middle.
Opening acts are tough, but “Megyn Kelly Today” already had an unusual number of hurdles to clear. Foremost, this is the beginning of a complicated rebuilding — or better word — readjustment process. Besides Kelly herself, the audience needs to undergo some readjusting here, too. Partly due to her former employer, Fox News, Kelly arrived at NBC over the summer with a highly specific image, as a hard-hitting interviewer with a no-nonsense style who brought that edge to a presidential debate and then had to suffer the endless consequences afterward. Then-candidate Donald Trump picked a bruising fight with her and she subsequently got entangled in the sexual harassment scandals that engulfed then-Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
Her Sunday magazine got off to a difficult start, ratings quickly faltered, and now, for her next act, she must mount a feel-good morning show. This could be really tough.
Kelly deserves the chance to remake herself, while Monday at least offered hints at Megyn 2.0. “Dissecting the latest tweet from Trump? No, we won’t be doing that,” she said. “I’m done with politics. You know why? It’s everywhere.
“Let me say that every day, during the show, we’ll talk about stories that catch our attention, the things we’ll be talking about over dinner that night or over a double martini. Who am I to judge?”
But won’t we be talking about Trump’s tweets about the NFL or North Korea over that double martini? We won’t be talking about the “Will & Grace” reboot. That seems reasonably certain.
Her introductory opener had some nice touches, particularly when she spoke of her father who died suddenly of a heart attack when she was 15.
“I was missing too much [of my family], too much of myself” in her old job, she explained. “Then came 2016 — so much division and outrage. For years I had dreamed of hosting an uplifting show, but how, where, what? I asked my dad for a sign, but no sign seemed to come.”
She recalled camping trips with her father, who sang John Denver’s “Today,” with that line “I’ll be a rover, you’ll know who I am by the songs that I sing . . . ”
Then this: “Not long after that, I had my first meeting with NBC, and lo and behold, they offered me [this] job to deliver hope, inspiration, empowerment and to have fun.”
In fact, NBC offered her a huge — indeed historically large — salary to host a Sunday newsmagazine and anchor a 9 a.m. weekday black hole, perhaps in preparation for a larger role at “Today.” This isn’t about fun. It’s about business. The audience knows that too, because they’ve already read about it endlessly or seen it covered exhaustively on “Access Hollywood.”
In a pretaped bit, Kathie Lee Gifford offered some good if self-evident advice: “Be authentic. People at home aren’t wanting to see perfect people.”
People at home aren’t, of course, but they are probably looking for intelligent, thoughtful analysis of those “double martini” issues that Kelly referred to. They don’t want to be uplifted or have fun or shed a tear or two, either. They want some clarity, insight and understanding. The world’s a crazy place. They need an anchor to make it just a little less crazy.
Kelly’s already established that she’s that skillful anchor who can ask hard questions and cut through the noise. She’s already got that hard-to-define quality called stardom and she’s got the attention of viewers, too. Now all she has to do is cut out the log-rolling . . . bring on some of that heat they generate on shows like “The View” . . . get some real newsmakers in that nice, big roomy studio . . . and make “Megyn Kelly Today” all that it can be and should be.
Yup, this is gonna be tough. But it’s certainly not impossible.