'Sunday Night' Anchor Megyn Kelly: 'I Have Zero Doubt I Can Do This Job'
This article was originally published in the June 26th issue of TV Guide Magazine. Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine.
Don’t use the F-word around Megyn Kelly. “Failure” is not in her vocabulary—just take a look at the 46-year-old news anchor’s sturdy résumé. Kelly, a corporate lawyer before becoming a journalist, built three successful shows in her nearly 13 years on Fox News Channel, including the ratings-winning, news-making The Kelly File. In January, she left Fox News for NBC, where she just launched the newsmagazine Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly (she hosts and typically reports one segment per episode) and will debut a 9am talk show in September.
“We’ve wanted to reinvigorate the newsmagazine format for a long time,” says David Corvo, executive producer of Sunday Night along with Liz Cole. “Megyn came here partially because she wanted to do a newsmagazine. It’s a very fortunate agreement on goals. She’s very empathetic, tough and unflappable, plus she has a sense of humor.”
Sunday Night, which premiered June 4 with 6.1 million viewers, didn’t top CBS’s venerable 60 Minutes (in repeats for the summer), but it did win the coveted news demographic of viewers age 25–54. Kelly also garnered some controversy before the third episode, due to her sit-down with Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. (Among his claims: that 9/11 was an inside job and the massacre at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook elementary school was a hoax.)
We spoke with Kelly in her temporary office at NBC’s 30 Rock as the hearings with former FBI director James Comey ran on a TV in the background. The room’s walls are festooned with drawings by her three young children with best-selling novelist husband Douglas Brunt. The only nonrelative photo: Kelly and one of her professed idols, Judge Judy Sheindlin. Here, Kelly talks about launching her new shows, where she gets her self-confidence and asking Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin the tough questions.
You interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the premiere of Sunday Night. Had cameras not been filming, do you think he would have throttled you when you questioned him about meddling in the U.S. election? It was hard to read how much of that was performance and how much was genuine. He was extremely warm behind the scenes. There was only one moment in which I thought he was really ticked off. I was pressing him on whether he agreed with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad that the tapes of children dying from his regime’s bombs were faked. I said that sarin gas, which was dropped by Assad, was found in the bodies of the dead children—that’s when he got mad. He leaned over and said, “There’s another explanation, and you know it!” But at the end, his right-hand guy invited me back to Moscow for another sit-down.
When you chose Alex Jones as a guest, were you concerned that you would be disseminating discredited and hurtful ideas? [Editor’s note: TV Guide Magazine spoke with Kelly before the controversy over her Jones interview began.] No, because I challenged him strongly on those types of theories, including “Pizzagate” [which charged that Hillary Clinton and onetime aide John Podesta ran a child-abuse ring in a pizza restaurant] and that the Boston Marathon bombers and the Aurora movie theater shooters were patsies. He didn’t much care for that.
Those are incendiary accusations, aren’t they? I went into the interview thinking he might be a thespian and not really believe all that stuff. I left thinking he is completely sincere. It’s easy to make Alex Jones look bad. The more complex thing to do is show that he’s not one-dimensional. People can draw their own conclusions, but I tried to shine a light on the man and his motivations.
You interviewed Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. Do you think he’ll speak with you again? I spoke with President Trump the week of his inauguration and he said he would. It has to be when he has something he can talk about. I’ll know when the timing is right and I think he’ll say yes.
Who’s upcoming in your hot seat? J.D. Vance, who wrote Hillbilly Elegy, a deep dive into the problems of the white working class in the Rust Belt and Appalachia. He’s open about the abuse he suffered growing up, but we go much deeper than that. We’ve also got the spotlight on some very powerful women who I’m looking forward to talking to. I don’t want to do celebrities—unless it’s someone who’s got something to say.
Is it true that you recently interviewed the Kardashians? I did. But not for Sunday Night. I talked to them for the new daytime show!
You’re taking on two huge challenges. Why compete with the emperor of newsmagazines, 60 Minutes, and launch a daytime show in a tough climate? That’s defeatist thinking. I don’t mire myself in how hard anything’s going to be. I have a pretty good track record of figuring out what’s good for me. When I wanted to get out of law—it was soul-killing—I had to figure out what profession would work for me. I knew in my bones journalism was something I would be good at. I wasn’t very good when I first started, but eventually I got better. I feel the same about my next professional challenge. I have zero doubt I can do this next job and this next show.
You seem supremely self-confident, which can be difficult for many women. It’s not that I’m running around supremely confident; it’s that I’ve made good choices. But I’m like every other woman, personally. I wish my butt was smaller and my boobs were bigger. I wish I were more present for my children. But I do feel like, professionally, I’ve got this.
Are you eager to show an image beyond “cool and collected Megyn Kelly” on the daytime show? I’m not looking to disabuse that notion. [Smiles] I don’t have anything to prove. I’m doing the daytime show to make people feel like they know what’s going on in the world. I think we’ll become known as a place you can go for a smart discussion.
Will that rule out cooking and workout segments? I can almost guarantee there’ll be no cooking. I can’t do anything that’s not authentic. I have never cooked.
Will it be newsy? Newsy. That’s the right word for it.
When Jane Pauley’s and Katie Couric’s failed daytime shows offered serious news, they didn’t click with daytime audiences. I’ve heard that, but I have a unique opportunity in the news world. I believe that both sides of this country trust me, except for the fringes—the far left and the far right. It would be wasteful if I did a show that didn’t cover the news for the people whose trust I spent 13 years earning.
The most successful daytime shows tend to have a host who reveals a personal side. Will you? In daytime it is appropriate to share more of yourself. Let’s say we’re doing a segment about kids and bullying. I would be comfortable talking about when I had been bullied or my own fears about my children.
What daytime shows have you enjoyed? Oprah. I like Ellen; I love her sense of humor. I love Hoda [Kotb] and Kathie Lee [Gifford]; they’re super fun. I love Today, but this won’t be Today. We’re not going to be like anything you’ve seen before.
The Oprah Winfrey Show had a mix of empowerment segments and heavier pieces, but she could be light and funny. Is that the path your daytime show will take? That’s right. I don’t sign on to the term “goofy,” because that would be patently inauthentic, and viewers can smell a phony. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
Who on TV inspired you professionally? There’s only one Oprah, Barbara [Walters] and Katie [Couric]. But I do admire these women. I’m a huge Oprah fan and have been watching her since I was 20. I admire Katie because, when her husband died, she had two young girls and she managed to raise them as a single mother. So Katie, even though she’s not that much older than I am, was a role model.
Most of your on-air experience has been at Fox News. What’s the main difference you’ve found between there and NBC? It’s very collaborative here. People are looking to see how they can set me up for success. I’m quickly falling in love with Tom Brokaw. He’s been so encouraging. NBC’s got plenty of resources, and it’s a delight to bask in them. Fox is more thinly staffed. We were scrappy. [Laughs]
Is there more freedom at NBC, where you’re not expected to hold a particular political position? No, I felt freedom at Fox to be who I was. Not that there was never any blowback. There were incidents that became public, like Sean Hannity saying because I didn’t support Trump I must love Hillary Clinton, neither of which was true. As a straight news anchor, you have to challenge both candidates, and I did that. I told NBC, “Just in case you’re thinking I’m a closet liberal who’s now finally going to come out of her shell, I’m not. I’m going to be the same person I was over there.”
Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly, Sundays, 7/6c, NBC