INTRIGUE

If Megyn Kelly Doesn’t Want Savannah Guthrie’s Job, Who’s Stirring The ‘Today’ Pot?

Page Six reported Megyn Kelly wanted to topple Savannah Guthrie from ‘Today.’ Kelly’s rep says that’s “absolutely false.”

02.04.17 1:38 AM ET

The New York Post’s Page Six gossip column claims former Fox News star Megyn Kelly with the encouragement of NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, is scheming to muscle Savannah Guthrie out of the Today show anchor chair when she arrives at the network in September.

But my own high-level soundings at NBC and beyond suggest that Page Six—which in recent years has enjoyed an enviable track record of scoops that the Peacock Network would have preferred not leak—might be mistaken in this case.

“It’s not going to happen—not this September, not the September after that,” said a well-placed source familiar with the players. “All those people out there, saying it is, are going to be embarrassed.”

A second person close to the situation told me: “It defies logic and credibility that they would re-sign Savannah, that they would re-sign Matt [Lauer], for a show that has spent the past four years working its way back to No. 1. They’re happy. Why would they throw a hand-grenade into that? It’s one thing to hire new talent. It’s another thing to be planning to disrupt the formula that has worked.”

Both Lauer and Guthrie, his Today co-anchor for the past 4 ½ years as the program gained ratings ground against ABC’s Good Morning America, recently re-upped for multiyear deals. Guthrie has remained on maternity leave after giving birth Dec. 8 to her second child with husband Mike Feldman.

NBC has announced that Kelly, meanwhile, will anchor her own hour-long weekday morning show on the broadcast network, in a time slot to be determined, as well as a Sunday evening program.

The Page Six report—which instead predicted Kelly will take Guthrie’s coveted 7-to-9 a.m. slot, leaving the latter in professional limbo at 9 a.m.— has prompted furious denials from NBC and Kelly’s PR rep since it was posted online Thursday evening, not to mention a bunch of conspiracy theories worthy of the speculation about a second JFK assassin on the grassy knoll in Dallas.

“NBC is not paying Megyn $12 to $15 million a year to be on at 9 a.m.,” an unidentified source told Page Six. “Andy Lack is completely behind all of this.”

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Noah Oppenheim, NBC’s senior vice president in charge of Today, insisted:  "Let me say this for the last time and as clearly as possible: this is never ever going to happen." And Kelly’s spokesperson, Hollywood uber-publicist Leslee Dart, emailed: “Absolutely false. Denied fervently ON THE RECORD by noah oppenheim (nbc) and me (megyn). Not even a kernel of truth.”

Perhaps tellingly, however, Lack himself has chosen not to weigh in.

I’m told that Kelly, Guthrie, and Lauer are pals, and that Guthrie was a guest at Kelly’s 46th birthday celebration Nov. 18 at the rooftop bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel. In the past day, sources said, all three have been sending one another reassuring messages of friendship and “eye-rolling” texts about the Page Six story.

 “The principals are all fine with each other,” said one source.

Lauer, who was widely blamed in the press for Today’s 2012 firing of a tearful Ann Curry, and Kelly, who suffered through controversies involving Donald Trump and Roger Ailes last year, are especially experienced in dealing with unwelcome publicity.     

Page Six editor Emily Smith declined to comment on NBC’s categorical denials. But her column in recent years has broken lots of news about the network, especially concerning the unhappy exits of Meet the Press moderator David Gregory, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, Today executive Jamie Horowitz, and “Today’s Take” cohost Billy Bush.

Because of the extreme sensitivity of the situation and NBC’s unfortunate history of tempestuous high-profile personnel switches—most recently, the abrupt departure this week  of popular MSNBC anchor and “Today’s Take” co-host Tamron Hall—nearly everyone spoke on condition of anonymity.

I’m told Kelly, who has been off the air since the final episode of Fox News’s prime-time Kelly File on Nov. 11, has been spending quality time with her husband, novelist Douglas Brunt, and their three young children, taking them to playdates, picking them up from school and reading them bedtime stories (though not from Page Six)—pastimes that were not possible when she helmed a prime-time weeknight program.

Sources say she has yet to engage NBC News executives and producers in detailed planning about her two prospective shows. Her morning show will air at either 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., and Kelly’s approach will also be informed by an analysis of ratings and demographics along with other audience research.

In contrast to the Today show rumor, Kelly is said to want to anchor her own branded program, not to join an ensemble cast.

Yet within NBC News, her recruitment has been greeted by pockets of skepticism. In her exit from Fox News—where she had become a frequent target of then-candidate Trump  and a central figure in the ousting, over sexual harassment allegations, of Fox News founder and chairman Ailes—Kelly declined a reported $25 million salary offer from Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch. 

While she is reportedly earning a lot less—initially anyway—at NBC, some staffers worry that the expense of her salary is bound to have a belt-tightening effect on news division budgets.

“I can understand why Andy went for the bright shiny object,” said one.  But if Lack sought to inflict damage on two of MSNBC’s rivals by (in the case of one) stealing one of Fox News’s biggest stars, and (in the case of the other), depriving CNN of Kelly’s services, that strategy hasn’t borne fruit. In the Age of Trump, Kelly’s 9 p.m. replacement, Tucker Carlson, has actually improved on her ratings; CNN, like other news outlets, is also thriving in the first weeks of the Trump administration.

As for the confidential sources behind Page Six’s reporting, conspiracy theories abound. “Whose agendas are playing out that are creating all this heat and light?” asked a bystander in the drama.

The New York Post, of course, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who might delight in causing a bit of mischief for his supposedly ungrateful star. 

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Folks at Fox News—where Kelly’s program was sandwiched between two rivals and occasional critics, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity—might also be enjoying the spectacle. And ABC News, where Kelly reportedly had serious discussions about joining Good Morning America, would take obvious pleasure in dinging the Today show.

Perhaps the most intriguing theory is that a 76-year-old unemployed man living in the wilds of Westchester County, a man with a taste for vengeance and a lot of time on his hands, might be stoking the harmful gossip.

But Roger Ailes wouldn’t do that, would he?