Few, if any, network news careers end prettily.
The egos are too big, and the money is too large, for a quiet, cordial exit. One thinks of Dan Rather, who ended up suing CBS— for which he worked loyally for more than four decades, only to be abandoned amid a forgery scandal—or Today host Billy Bush, fired after the leak of the Access Hollywood tape; or Ann Curry, who shed on-air tears as she was pushed out of NBC’s Today show; or, for that matter, the man Curry blamed for her sacking, alleged sexual predator Matt Lauer.
Even by those standards, however, the brutal collapse of Megyn Kelly’s NBC News career, after barely 18 months, is especially ugly—and embarrassingly public.
The former Fox News star, who is 47, is an instant non-person at 30 Rock—the object of widespread revulsion both inside and outside NBC—a mere 48 hours after she blurted out, on Tuesday’s installment of her ratings-challenged 9 a.m. show Megyn Kelly Today, a defense of white people who don blackface for Halloween, which her NBC colleague Craig Melvin described on the next day’s Today show as “racist” and “ignorant.”
“Seems logical under the circumstances,” a person close to Kelly said, mordantly, about her fractured relations with NBC.
Freedman—whom Kelly hired after she parted ways with two talent agencies, CAA and UTA, in quick succession on Wednesday night—is scheduled to haggle Friday with NBC’s upper management, which includes news division chairman Andy Lack, who lured Kelly to NBC in the first place.
As her relations with NBC became increasingly antagonistic, Kelly reportedly dropped CAA because it also represents NBC News President Noah Oppenheim; UTA, meanwhile, reportedly balked at taking her on as a client when the blackface controversy exploded.
Kelly’s professional future—once dazzling—is now uncertain.
Industry insiders told The Daily Beast that the messy circumstances of her departure from NBC will make it unlikely that she will quickly find work at another major outlet.
Her former Fox News colleague Geraldo Rivera, for one, tweeted his hope that Kelly will return to Fox News, where she spent a dozen years under the late Roger Ailes, who both sexually harassed her, according to Kelly, and mentored her into prime-time stardom.
“How about showing some mercy to an otherwise good person?” Rivera argued.
Indeed, according to informed sources, Lachlan Murdoch—Rupert Murdoch’s elder son and the executive who oversees Fox News—wondered about Kelly’s career plans weeks ago, well before the latest controversy, in a conversation with her then-CAA agent Matt DelPiano.
“I hear Megyn misses the news,” Murdoch said, according to sources close to Kelly and Murdoch.
“The news misses Megyn,” DelPiano supposedly replied.
There was no follow-up.
At the time, according to news reports, Lack had already informed Kelly her poorly-rated morning show would not last; her Sunday magazine show, launched last year, had never found an audience and was canceled after only eight installments. Weeks before her blackface gaffe, Kelly was looking for an exit strategy.
Yet despite published speculation in recent days, Fox News does not seem a realistic option, according to several industry insiders who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity.
For one thing, there is no room for her on the programming lineup. “We are extremely happy with our entire lineup,” Fox News said in a statement. For another, she left the top-rated cable outlet amid a series of controversies—including her accusation against the disgraced Ailes—that left a bad taste among some of her colleagues.
“This is what happens when you tilt the universe with lies @ Megynkelly,” tweeted @DarlaShine, which was the account of Darla Shine—the wife of White House communications director Bill Shine, who was Ailes’ second-in-command when Kelly worked at Fox—that she deleted after previous highly controversial comments and recently reactivated.
Shine was later dismissed from Fox amid accusations that he helped enable some of Ailes’ misconduct before he was hired by the Trump administration. “You helped perpetuate lies against those who helped you,” @DarlaShine added. “Only the truth will set you free!”
Kelly, who declined to comment to The Daily Beast, is said to be devastated by her current situation, but, as a former Washington, D.C., litigator, ready if necessary to battle in court.
The reaction to her blackface defense—especially from Kelly’s NBC colleagues—was swift and lethal. Twitter exploded with denunciations.
“I cannot believe the ignorance on this in 2018,” Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi tweeted—one critic among hundreds. “You are on national television. You have a responsibility to educate yourself on social issues @ megynkelly. This is so damaging.”
The following morning, two of Today’s African-American personalities, Melvin and Al Roker (whose hosting gig on Today’s third hour, along with that of Tamron Hall, was abruptly canceled by Kelly’s arrival) pulled no punches on the venerable morning program.
Melvin called Kelly’s comments “ignorant and racist… stupid and indefensible.”
Roker, noting that Kelly had emailed a written apology to the newsroom staff, declared: “She owes a bigger apology to folks of color around the country.” (Roker, according to NBC sources, had every reason to be angry when management pulled him and Hall in favor of Kelly last year; their ratings in Today’s third hour had been substantially higher than Kelly’s.)
Hours later Wednesday at a previously scheduled town hall meeting in Saturday Night Live’s Studio 8H, Lack told news division staffers: “There is no other way to put this: I condemn those remarks; there is no place on our air or in this workplace for them… Very unfortunate.” (Revealingly, NBC provided a transcript of Lack’s remarks to several outside media outlets.)
On her own program Wednesday, Kelly’s agonized on-air mea culpa—in which she was clearly struggling not to break down in sobs—was not enough to save her, even after she sat stoically and listened to two African-American journalists, TV One’s Roland Martin and PBS’ Amy Holmes, condemn her blackface remarks in excruciating detail.
“Megyn was very emotional when she came out onto the set, as one would expect,” Holmes, who has been a frequent panelist on Megyn Kelly Today, told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “The anguish viewers saw was very real. I’ve been on set with Megyn before when she was emotional, allowing herself to tear up. This was a different level. This was more like shell shock. I wasn’t sure if she was going to get through the apology she had prepared. I don’t think she was sure, either.”
Kelly’s husband, novelist Douglas Brunt, was present for moral support.
By all accounts, that was Kelly’s last live appearance on the network that recruited her, only last year, for a reported $23 million a year—an astronomical sum that was said to be multiples of what anybody else on NBC News’s anchor roster was making.
The disparity would be even deeper if, as TMZ reported on Thursday evening, Kelly was being paid as much as $25 million a year.
An NBC insider told The Daily Beast that Kelly’s departure is widely seen as a relief: “She does have talent, but when she's miscast or doesn’t know her limits, she makes pretty big mistakes. On the network side, some of it comes from rivalry with someone who didn’t come from the farm system and is widely viewed as overpaid and taking other people’s roles—people who were doing much better with less headaches and for less money. It’s not a tough call.”
—Additional reporting by Lachlan Cartwright and Maxwell Tani