The first week of Megyn Kelly’s daytime talk show, it turns out, was fantastic television.
Don’t be confused: It was a disaster. But a disaster that couldn’t have been more compelling to watch. That whole watching-a-trainwreck analogy? This is what a $15 million one looks like.
Kelly, of course, became a star on Fox News, praised for attorney-like interrogation of her guests and her sniper-like toughness when a target came at her with bullshit.
In its infinite wisdom after spending all that money to woo Kelly away from her cable-news desk and giving her a daytime TV show, NBC thought, “All those things that you made you popular and ostensibly worth $15 million? Get rid of that entirely, and manufacture an awkwardly fitting personality that will be mercilessly mocked by the internet and—hell, why not—even your own guests.”
If someone couldn’t already guess that these puff interviews wouldn’t be her strongest suit, they certainly knew by the end of the week. There’s a way she’d introduce these segments, looking straight into the camera with a morose facial expression and teasing, “On a lighter note...” that sends a chill straight to the bone.
The celebrity guests paraded in front of her in this first week, often resembling hostages blinking into the camera for help, concluded Friday morning with what might have been the worst interview ever completed with the most interesting interview subjects ever served to a talk-show host: the female cast members of Saturday Night Live.
It was an interview that gave occasion for me to scribble into my reporter’s notebook the question, “Did... Megyn Kelly just switch into a blaccent to ask Leslie Jones a question?”
After a week like this, we’re not even surprised.
Patients Zero through Five of Kelly’s misguided foray into celebrity journalism were the cast of Will & Grace and its two creators, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick. Kelly probed the group with the plastic enthusiasm of someone who had not seen a minute of Will & Grace until her assistant showed her the J. Lo clip on her iPad in the green room before the cast came out.
The cast, Mullally and Hayes especially, looked as if it was all they could do to not check their watches throughout the entire segment, counting down to when it was going to be over. But who could’ve predicted its ghastly conclusion: Kelly invites a gay Will & Grace superfan, who, like Will on the show, is a gay lawyer, to meet the cast. At the end of the segment, Kelly signs off with, “I don’t know about the lawyer thing, but I think the Will & Grace thing and the gay thing is going to work out great!”
If you’ve ever wondered what a nationwide facepalm sounds like it, it’s the deafening smack you heard at around 9:40 a.m. Monday morning. After the fact, Debra Messing took to Instagram to say she regretted doing the interview, and hinted that she never would have agreed to it had she known it was Kelly who would be conducting it. She claims that she was only told she would be on Today, not Kelly’s hour specifically.
But just when NBC might have thought a falter at the start was the worst-case scenario, Kelly became one of those people in viral videos who trips and stumbles to a fall for 30 uncomfortable seconds—or, in her case, a full week.
On Wednesday, Kelly had Robert Redford and Jane Fonda on the show to promote their Netflix film, Our Souls at Night. Inexplicably—maybe she thought it was a valid talking point, maybe she thought she’d get a scoop, maybe she’s just that deranged—Kelly, apropos of nothing, asked Fonda about her plastic-surgery history.
The aghast face Fonda gave Kelly in that moment gave a million snarky media angels their wings. “We’re really going to talk about that now?!” It’s as disastrous a live response as can happen to an interviewer.
If nothing else, we are duly impressed by the unbreakable fortitude of the woman who was on the receiving end of that facial expression from Jane Freaking Fonda and did not wither into a pile of ashes, a waft of extinguished smoke where Kelly’s soul once lived. The interview awkwardly soldiered on.
Waiting for celebrities to roast Kelly to her face became bloodsport during this first week of shows, so much so that a mix-up with a logical explanation went viral as the latest example of a scorching burn, before that explanation had a chance to present herself.
On Wednesday, Kelly announced that Edie Falco would be her celebrity guest the next morning. Thursday came and went with no Falco—and no celebrity interview at all, unheard of in morning TV. The assumption was that Falco bailed, a slight to Kelly. It turns out that Falco’s interview was pre-taped and simply bumped to next week after Kelly scored a last-minute follow-up interview with Lyle Menendez that she chose to air instead.
The villagers with the pitchforks sheepishly retreated, but knew it wouldn’t be for long. The grand finale of the disastrous week was yet to come: a Friday morning interview with the female cast of Saturday Night Live. Surely they’d have no patience for Kelly.
Alas, the interview was pre-taped—and yet somehow still unfathomably awkward.
The cast sat stone-faced at Kelly’s performative excitement, like middle schoolers with no patience for the substitute teacher’s rapping of a Shakespeare sonnet. Each response to a question—and no question that aired was one that has not been asked of these performers at least two dozen times in interviews—was preceded by a silent facial tick, one that read, “Ugh.”
And then, I swear to God, Megyn Kelly, maybe thinking she was exhibiting a bubbly, fun personality or maybe just caught up in the moment, switched into a blaccent when she asked Leslie Jones her first question.
If nothing else, each successive faux pas upped the ante for internet comedy skewering Kelly’s performance.
“NBC must be feeling like Virgin Records after they signed Mariah Carey and she immediately released Glitter,” tweeted Emma Chapple.
“My guess is tomorrow she asks Solange if she can touch her hair, followed by an intense sit-down with Jamie Lee Curtis,” posted Yanick Saila-Ngita.
In response to the blaccent gaffe, Joe Reid tweeted, “I think the idea is to get someone to slap Megyn Kelly on air.”
The Today show—as with all morning shows—has always been notoriously synergistic, with incessant plugging of shows and celebrities from the network and its sister networks.
That said, why in the world would NBC, when it’s trying to drum up good press for the first week of Kelly’s show, book a veritable DNC speaker’s list of noted liberal celebrities—outspoken ones like Debra Messing and Jane Fonda, at that—to awkwardly scowl at a host whom anyone with even a latent interest in Hollywood politics would predict they’d have no patience for?
It’s a morning show, you might say. She has to interview actors, and they’re all liberal! That’s true. But, at least in this first week when all eyes are on the show, why not just have her cook a souffle or show off the year’s hottest Halloween costumes, hallmarks of the genre as fluffy as the softball celebrity interview.
Hosts and many TV critics alike argue that a new talk show needs at least a month, and more likely three or four, until you can fairly judge what it is. I’d say that’s something that Seth Meyers, James Corden, and Stephen Colbert, who took a full year to hit his stride on The Late Show, can attest to. To that regard, Kelly truly has nowhere to go but up, and likely will once she becomes more comfortable with these celebrity puff pieces.
Kelly ended her hour Friday morning by cheering, visibly relieved, “I made it!” Thanking her audience, she went on, “I’ve been so delighted by the media response…” before pausing and making a pained face: “No.” That was funny, Megyn Kelly! There’s hope yet.