Life After Megyn Kelly: Will 'Today' Ratings Rebound? How Will NBC Officially Replace Her?
Add one more jolting change to the landscape of morning television. Thirteen months after NBC welcomed Megyn Kelly Today as the 9am hour of its popular Today franchise — headlined by the former Fox News anchor — the show was canceled.
While ratings have been underwhelming, the move came after Kelly defended the use of blackface makeup for Halloween costumes on her October 23 episode. Kelly apologized on-air the following day, but NBC News chief Andy Lack opened a staff meeting by saying in part, "I condemn those remarks; there is no place on our air or in this workplace for them." Two days later NBC confirmed that Megan Kelly Today was not returning, and Kelly was on her way off the network.
Beginning October 29, familiar Today faces took over the timeslot. "We are starting a new chapter in the third hour of our show," said Hoda Kotb, who anchored that day along with Craig Melvin, Al Roker and Savannah Guthrie via satellite.
"The entire Today family will continue to bring you informative and important stories, just as we always have." The current plan, network sources say, is to have Today talent rotate in and out of the host seats; so far, correspondent Jenna Bush Hager and Weekend Today coanchor Sheinelle Jones have also filled in. A permanent replacement has yet to be named.
The first post-Kelly episode covered the recent Pittsburgh synagogue shootings but was also filled with segments about Halloween, a man saved from a surprising illness and food preparation tips. (The gifts Kelly dispensed daily are gone, though some segments still feature a studio audience.)
It’s hardly surprising that the hour is looking more like the rest of the franchise. In a bid to keep its lead-in’s audience, Megyn Kelly Today was already becoming more Today-like, with an influx of lighter content — despite its original concept as a serious talk show. Kelly told TV Guide Magazine in June 2017 that she’d never do cooking segments, "because I never cook and I can’t do anything that’s not authentic." But she was soon helping whip up a meal with "what’s in your pantry."
Kelly’s time at the Peacock Network was rocky from the start. Her low-rated newsmagazine Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly was quietly killed after its summer 2017 run. The former lawyer’s cool style didn’t seem to click with daytime viewers, and Megyn Kelly Today was averaging 400,000 fewer viewers than its timeslot predecessor, Today’s Take, hosted by Roker and Tamron Hall. During Kelly’s tenure, the show’s main competition, ABC’s Live With Kelly and Ryan, more than doubled its lead over her Today hour.
Those mediocre ratings made it easier for Lack to use Kelly’s racially charged words as a reason to end her contract. (Prior to the scandal, they were reportedly discussing a shift in her role at NBC to focus on hard news.) At press time, Kelly was still negotiating myriad details of her exit — along with having almost two years left on her reported $69 million, three-year deal, there are questions of non-compete and non-disparagement clauses.
Where could Kelly’s next stop be? Probably not Fox News, the setting of both her biggest success and an unflattering portion of her memoir. (New Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said they are "very happy with our current lineup.")
As for Today, the show remains the No. 1 program from 7am to 9am in the advertiser-coveted demographic of viewers age 25 to 54. If the already known and well-liked anchors and correspondents stick around, viewers who recently tuned out after the 8:59 sign-off might just feel compelled to stick around instead.
Today, Weekdays, NBC
This article also appeared in the Nov. 12 - Nov. 25 issue of TV Guide Magazine