In a contentious interview Megyn Kelly did with Elle that was published on Monday, she was asked whether her "prosecutorial" interviewing skills would mesh well with morning television. Kelly answered: "I am not one-dimensional. I can do many things."
I picture her saying those words in her flat alto, with the authoritative, slightly hostile style with which Kelly delivered shibboleths on her nightly Fox News show, The Kelly File — not in any of the quirky voices viewers of her new NBC morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, are getting to know after this week of episodes: the Valley Girl, the Whisper, the Blaccent, the Baby, the Purposely Deep to Be Funny. Sometimes Kelly's vocal inflections are accompanied by an awkward hand gesture: On Thursday's show, the Whisper got air quotes around the word "surprise!" for a promise of something coming after the commercial break. I watched the whole thing, and don't actually know what the surprise was, except that in the next segment, a camera man stepped in front of Kelly's interview with soccer star Carli Lloyd and said "shit!" on the air. That probably wasn't it, though.
NBC is paying Kelly $18 million for what seems to be a debacle. (NBCUniversal is an investor in BuzzFeed.) Yes, it's a marathon, not a sprint, but it's safe to say we're not supposed to be hate-watching this. We're meant to be watching Kelly show us her softer side in order to fall in love with her charms, causing Megyn Kelly Today to overtake ABC's formidable Live With Kelly and Ryan in the ratings. So far, none of those things has happened (and Kelly and Ryan continues to win handily in the ratings despite Today's huge push, though it is early days).
The strategy for Kelly's summer news show, Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly, appeared to be to try to get her interviews with high-profile newsmakers (Vladimir Putin, Alex Jones) along with softer profiles (J.D. Vance, Maria Menounos) and traditional news magazine stories, sometimes by other reporters (a new treatment for alcoholism, sexual harassment in the tech industry). The question of whether it was watchable on the whole — and it was totally fine — was overshadowed by her inept interview with Putin, and by the mere fact that the show booked Alex Jones to get attention. The magazine format does suit Kelly better, ill-chosen bookings aside. But as a test balloon, Sunday Night was a failure, and perhaps a harbinger: The ratings were pitiful.
So it makes sense to run screaming from the mistakes of Sunday Night for Megyn Kelly Today. But here, the plan seems to be getting no famous guests who are not on NBC shows (except for Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, which we'll get to later). So far, the show has been an infomercial for NBC's Will & Grace, This Is Us, Saturday Night Live, and most extraordinarily of all, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders. To promote The Menendez Murders, Kelly did a phone interview with Lyle Menendez, which aired over Wednesday's and Thursday's episodes, and caused acute cognitive dissonance, at least for me.
First, she began her opening bit in nearly the exact same way both days:
Every day here, we want to kick things off with some of the stories that caught our eye to help you start our morning. So here's what you need to know today: Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders — who remembers that story? Right! It premiered last night on NBC, it's a Dick Wolf project, you know, Law & Order, DUN-DUN [she did the show's signature clang]. Did you watch it?
Every day, we want to kick things off here at Megyn Kelly Today with some of the stories that have caught our eye to help you start your day. You need some cocktail party fodder, you need some dinner party discussion. Here's what you need to know today: Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders. It premiered right here on NBC on Tuesday night. Everyone's talking about it. Did you see it?
This is just bad producing, weak booking, and a bizarre reading of this particular moment in America. Also, I would defy you to find someone who was as obsessed with the Menendez murders as I was, and yes, I was one of the people who watched The Menendez Murders and found it to be trashy fun (though it's not an out-of-the-gate smash: it did only OK). And I could not care less about this Lyle Menendez interview. She called it a "fascinating conversation" and claimed to have caught him in a "flip-flop" over whether he had told his mother that his father was abusing him or not — literally, who cares! She also asked whether he looked into his parents' eyes when he and Eric shot them, as well as, "This may seem like an odd question, but is there any joy in your life?" All this over the unappealing visuals of Kelly on the phone in a generic office, interspersed with Lyle's prison mugshot and the text of what he's saying next to it.
Another problem: The talking points that begin the program end up being whiplash-inducing, tonally. After announcing the Lyle interview on Wednesday, she said: "We have the O.J. Simpson stuff, and now they're doing the Menendez stuff, and people are getting back into these cases. Just to hear it directly from him, on what it was like. They claimed the boys were abused; the prosecutors said complete nonsense. We'll get into all of it. OK! A lighter note: Wedding invitations!" (I am certainly ready for that cocktail party now, that's for sure.)
These days, live television thrives on viral moments, and Megyn Kelly Today has already had two. But not ones that show Kelly in a good light. The first was on the Monday premiere, when she said to a Will & Grace fan, "Is it true that you became a lawyer, and you became gay, because of Will?" And then after bestowing him with a trip to Los Angeles to see the show taped: "I don't know about the lawyer thing, but I think the Will & Grace thing and the gay thing is going to work out for you." Kelly got a lot of shit for it, and later Debra Messing wrote on Instagram in response to a disappointed fan: "Honestly I didn't know it was MK until that morning. The itinerary just said Today show appearance. Regret going on. Dismayed by her comments."