Splashy Debut

Megyn Kelly’s Prime-Time Debut Leaves No Doubt She’s Fox News’ Future

Lloyd Grove reports on the glitch-free first night of ‘The Kelly File’ in the coveted 9 p.m. time slot.

Richard Drew/AP

If any proof were necessary that Megyn Kelly is the future of Fox News, her powerhouse lead-in—top-rated cable personality Bill O’Reilly—provided it Monday night with an unqualified endorsement of the host of The Kelly File. Kelly, the king of Fox informed his millions of viewers, has impressed him “with her grit [and] determination and drive to be the best and not take a lot of guff from charlatans.” Plus, she is “honest to boot.”

(Never mind that Sean Hannity, the host Kelly displaced to the comparatively Siberian 10 p.m. time slot after 17 years at 9, couldn’t bring himself to welcome her to her much-ballyhooed premiere in his coveted primetime former berth.)

It was, not surprisingly given the high production values created and demanded by Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, a smooth debut—glitch-free and for the most part fast paced, with the possible exception of a yakfest featuring a group of talking heads Kelly insisted on calling “the stars of The Five,” Fox News’s afternoon brawl of a panel show. Even Kelly—a former litigator who in her decade at Fox has demonstrated a talent for crisp, if occasionally quarrelsome, on-camera interviews—couldn’t keep the conversation from wandering like a lost birthday party clown, desperate to locate the children’s party for which he’d been hired to make balloon animals. Which would have been preferable to Bob Beckel discussing his sex life when the subject turned to Miley Cyrus.

The Kelly File strives to be at once more entertaining and less ideological than Hannity’s meat-and-potatoes menu of right-wing talking points. One can detect the tabloid sensibility, if not the influence, of Shepard Smith, a populist news hound, not a political junkie, who gave up his 7 p.m. slot in favor of Greta Van Susteren as part of Ailes’s fall programming shakeup. Sex appeal is apparently high on Kelly’s agenda. I’m not sure what topic was being touted in a promo for Tuesday night’s show, because I was too distracted by the accompanying images of naked female flesh sandwiched into string bikinis.

Though Kelly’s first guest was alleged government shutdown orchestrator Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in an uncharacteristically softball interview, she moved on to an emotional exchange with two sisters of Miriam Carey, the dental hygienist shot to death by Washington, D.C., law-enforcement authorities after ramming a White House gate with her car. Then came video of the spectacular Indycar crash in Houston, this time from a fan’s perspective, played over and over in slow-mo; a report from White House correspondent Ed Henry that seemed to absolve President Obama of blame for such highly publicized shutdown nuisances as the suspension of the government-run Amber Alert website (even as The Five’s Eric Bolling accused Obama and the Democrats of deliberately maximizing the pain for political advantage); an installment of “Kelly’s Court,” a legacy from her afternoon program, this one featuring a back-and-forth about the lawsuit potential of the biker incident on the West Side Highway; and a repeatedly teased audition reel that Kelly submitted 10 years ago, as a local Washington reporter who went by her then-married name Megyn Kendall, to get her job at Fox. “‘Why? Why?’ You may wonder,” she teased the reel. “‘What the heck were they thinking, hiring this woman?’” False modesty alert.

She also flashed a snapshot of her infant son, Thatcher, her third child and the cause of her recent three-month maternity leave—“my sweet little guy, awwww,” she crooned—and the camera lingered on Thatcher’s dad, Kelly’s model-handsome second husband, Douglas Brunt, who stood vigil supportively on the studio floor. Kelly effusively thanked viewers for all the baby gifts. Message: Megyn Kelly might be pretty, slim, and blonde in her sexy black cocktail dress, showing off a pair of spectacular gams under her see-through Plexiglas anchor desk, but for all those regular folks out in the real America, she is also warmly relatable. Granted, her ability to keep her face perfectly still while listening to a guest’s answer, along with her incredibly slow blink-rate, is a tad unusual.

Ailes has always had an eye for talent and the patience to develop it, and Kelly undeniably is a talented broadcaster. It’s hard to disagree with Kelly’s Fox News colleague Trace Gallagher, who came on to introduce the car-crash segment and offered his own instant Kelly File review: “Welcome to primetime. You look great, the set looks great, and it’s gotta be exciting for you.”