The most important news program launch of the year arrives Monday, Sept. 25, when “Megyn Kelly Today” begins at 9 a.m. on NBC/4. But little is actually known about the newcomer other than host and format (talk show with an audience). Into the void has seeped speculation: A recent Vanity Fair story asked, “Has Megyn Kelly’s star already been eclipsed?” while the Daily Beast reported there’s “panic” at NBC over the anemic performance of her Sunday magazine series.
Nevertheless, there is the matter of the show. How exactly will Kelly — a former prime-time star — juggle the demands of live morning television? I spoke recently with her executive producer, Jackie Levin, about all this. A highly regarded “Today” veteran, Levin has spent her entire career in network news, first at ABC News, later at NBC, where she was a “Dateline” producer, and at “Today,” where she launched the popular Book Club, and ran special segments.
I’m assuming the links with “Today” will be strong here, and that the other anchors, like Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, will occasionally turn up. Correct?
There will be a lot of crossover. We’re part of the family and you will see our colleagues from across the street from time to time. [Kelly’s show originates from directly across “Today’s” street studio.]
An audience is new to the “Today” brand. Why have one now?
It brings an entirely separate level of energy and another voice to segments. Hopefully, the audience is not coming to sit but to be engaged and involved where appropriate. [Kelly] will incorporate members into segments and talk to people throughout the show.
What kinds of guests do you want?
All kinds. We will have great personal stories from regular people dealing with situations that all of us deal with. We will have celebrities, where appropriate, and experts, where appropriate.
Any hard news in the hour?
Certainly Megyn will deliver her take on certain topics of that morning or the day before, so it will be current, hopefully edgy, and hopefully segments that might go under the evergreen category.
Will she eventually get a co-anchor or co-host?
No. I’ve been doing this a long time, and seen a lot of different people in this world, and she is a star. She is a natural, and she does this [in the rehearsal shows] like she’s done this every day of her career. We’ll have a lot of guests every day for her to engage with. I see her co-host as the audience.
A promo that ran a few days ago said she wants this show to be a “unifying force” in divided times. What does that mean?
Megyn really wants to connect with people, to be engaged in a way where they feel like they’re part of the conversation, where they feel like they’re being heard.
Over the summer, she did a handful of pieces — like the one on going camping with her family at Harriman State Park — that almost seem to be recasting her in some way, from the tough Fox News anchor to someone more approachable. Who is she being remade into?
I don’t think this is remaking. It’s morning TV — you wake up with the [on-air] person you’re going to have breakfast with. What we did is show that she’s a real person — hard-working, supersmart, a mom with three kids, which is not easy. . . . She appreciates every moment with those babies.”
To an extent, she arrived at NBC as a polarizing figure — the Trump feud, then the departure from Fox News angering some fans, and the Sunday magazine, notably the interview with “Infowars” host Alex Jones, which seemed to anger everyone. Does “polarizing” hurt or help this launch?
Look, people are going to write what they write, but if they took some time and looked at her work and the person she is, they’d see a super-hard-working, accomplished woman who earned her way to where she is right now.
Nevertheless, the press and industry speculation does seem to have been fairly consistent, to wit, the Sunday ratings were low, leading to internal concerns about the performance of the morning show. Are you concerned?
I’ve heard it all, but then I know the reality and choose to move on. I have confidence in what we’re doing and we’ve been doing this a long time. . . . Who hears the noise? The East and West coasts. I know the rest of the country isn’t paying attention. They like her [and] want to give her a chance.
NBC has been trying to crack the 9 a.m. nut for a long time. What sort of available audience is there, or are you depending on flow from “Today?”
It’s the age-old question, [but] her audience is heavier female than male, and moms who just got their kids off to school, and older moms.
Another established 9 a.m. show over on ABC with the name “Kelly” in the title goes after the same audience. Room enough for two?
They’re two very different shows.