Just when Megyn Kelly Today seemed to be stabilizing after a shaky debut last September and several on-air mishaps since—it scored an encouraging more than 3 million viewers for this past Monday’s episode—the third hour of NBC’s venerable morning show has hit yet another rough patch.
A sensational report on the program’s alleged managerial incompetence and “toxic and demeaning” workplace environment in Thursday’s Daily Mail Online has compounded the headache of media speculation into why the richly compensated ex-Fox News star has no role in NBC’s much-hyped Olympics broadcasts from South Korea.
The 47-year-old Kelly, who reportedly earns as much as $23 million a year, by far the top salary for any NBC News personality, will stay behind in New York while everyone from Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb to Al Roker and Willie Geist heads to Pyeongchang for the Winter Games. The Feb. 9 Opening Ceremony, especially, is a major promotional opportunity that Team Kelly will miss.
“That’s entirely an NBC News decision,” a network insider told The Daily Beast, adding that “it’s partly because her show has a studio audience, and it would be tough to travel an entire audience to Korea.”
The perhaps less-than-persuasive argument for Kelly’s absence from NBC’s multiplatform, billion-dollar extravaganza is that her 9 a.m. show has been building momentum with viewers, and gaining plaudits from media journalists, by focusing on the “MeToo” movement and workplace sexual harassment, and that a detour to South Korea could hinder that positive energy.
“She was game to do whatever the network bosses felt was best, but felt very strongly about staying in New York given the topics her show has been covering,” an NBC insider told Us Weekly. “She didn’t want to miss out on another big exclusive by being overseas since her show has been leading the way on #MeToo interviews.”
Yet Megyn Kelly Today will likely participate remotely in NBC’s Winter Games coverage with regular satellite cut-ins from the Olympic Village in Pyeongchang.
It was not lost on Team Kelly that the toughest story on her Olympics non-participation was posted by her former employer, on FoxNews.com—with the provocative headline, “NBC sends Katie Couric to Olympics in new embarrassment for Megyn Kelly.”
The story quoted someone identified as “an industry insider” as calling the NBC decision “definitely a slap in the face to Megyn.”
“It was already bad enough that they weren’t sending the star they’re paying $23 million a year to Pyeonchang. But now they’re bringing in a nonemployee to fill a vacancy,” the “insider” was quoted by Fox News. “Yeah, one wonders what’s up with that and how Kelly feels about all of this.”
Kelly has yet to publicly address the flap.
The day after Fox News’ story, the Daily Mail’s web site published a lurid behind-the-scenes account of chaos, incompetence, and executive bullying of underlings, all detailed in a leaked email written by Kevin Bleyer, who was dismissed from his job this week as the show’s head writer. (Full disclosure: Bleyer is a past contributor to The Daily Beast.)
“I'm sad to say, speaking candidly and confidentially, the executive incompetence continues—as does the dysfunctional management, abusive treatment, maddening hypocrisy, staggering inefficiencies, acidic and deficient communication, and relentless scapegoating,” Bleyer wrote to Erin Hogan, the director of human resources for NBC News, in a lengthy screed alleging bad behavior by Megyn Kelly Today Executive Producer Jackie Levin and her co-Executive Producer Christine Cataldi.
“Jackie Levin persists in creating a toxic and demeaning environment, and Christine Cataldi enables and reinforces it,” Bleyer continued. “Just last week, when I provided a constructive suggestion (to correct a mistake Jackie had made, but didn’t want to admit), she called me a ‘fucking whiner.’”
“To state the obvious, I am not a whiner. And if I am a whiner, so are dozens of people who work for Jackie.”
Bleyer—who has written comedy material for Bill Maher, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, and even Barack Obama’s White House Correspondents Dinner shtick—added: “It is a special absurdity—and what some find a hard-to-swallow injustice—that as a team we’ve been lauded for covering harassment stories daily on air, while the staff producing those stories feels so embattled and bullied themselves.”
Bleyer stressed that he knows of no evidence that Kelly herself has been aware of the management-caused dysfunction on her program, or of the alleged dereliction of her senior producers.
As he exited 30 Rock after being sacked, Bleyer sent his email—a veritable War and Peace of aggrievement, including a minutely detailed tick-tock of Levin’s and Cataldi’s alleged misdeeds—to several former colleagues; after being circulated within NBC, it predictably made its way into public view.
Among Bleyer’s allegations: Both Levin and Cataldi are regularly abusive to assistants—cursing at and insulting them (Caltaldi calls hers an “idiot”)—while constantly creating unnecessary distractions for the staff as the live show was about to air (poring over photos of Cataldi’s bathroom renovation, for instance, 20 minutes before airtime).
Bleyer portrays Levin, a Dateline NBC alum who was previously responsible for special projects and booking Today’s author guests, as both clueless about the demands of running a live television show, inattentive to her duties, and brazenly entitled.
“Jackie has insisted that our director, producers, and editors… use NBC resources to edit a music video for her son’s college a capella group,” Bleyer wrote to HR director Hogan. ‘They didn’t feel they could tell her no.”
NBC responded to Bleyer’s accusations with a full-throated defense of Levin and Cataldi, and a venomous assault on Bleyer.
“Jackie and Christine are being attacked unfairly,” an NBC News spokesperson said in a statement. “They are both excellent and experienced producers, and have the full support of everyone here. They, and the team, are fully focused on continuing the show’s momentum as it continues to climb in the ratings.”
A so-called NBC News “source,” meanwhile, described Bleyer as “a recently fired temporary employee, who has never worked in a high-pressured news environment, and was not up to performing his job”—never mind that Bleyer’s six years on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, from 2006 to 2012, required him to create topical comedy material on a killing deadline four days a week.
“He has a clear ax to grind,” the NBC News source added. “Sadly, these kinds of distorted complaints are all too often alleged against women in management.”
Reached by The Daily Beast, Bleyer responded: “Respectfully, I have no comment. Any emails I may or may not have written would have been intended for selected members of the Megyn Kelly staff, and not for public consumption. I do hope you’ll respect that.”