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On NBC's Megyn Kelly, Authenticity And The Elephant In The Room

Sep 30, 2017
Originally published on September 30, 2017 8:52 am

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Megyn Kelly debuted on NBC this week as host of the new extra hour of "The Today Show." It was a rocky first few days for the former Fox News star as she took criticism from all quarters. NPR's David Folkenflik breaks down the week.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Megyn Kelly burst into total national consciousness two years ago with her tough-minded questioning of a Republican presidential hopeful.

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MEGYN KELLY: You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.

FOLKENFLIK: That candidate turned his ire on her for months and is now president. Kelly left Fox News for NBC, and she has been eager to proclaim a new chapter.

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KELLY: The truth is I am kind of done with politics for now, right?

(APPLAUSE)

FOLKENFLIK: Let's say, from the outset, that it's fundamentally unfair to evaluate a show with any finality based on its first few episodes. But you should be able to get a feel about where it thinks it's headed. Kelly was brought over from Fox News with great fanfare and a big payday, reportedly well in excess of $15 million a year. She's now host of "The Today Show's" 9 a.m. hour, and she's been reintroducing herself as she seeks to reinvent herself.

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KELLY: I'm so excited - so excited. I'm also a little nervous.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Bear with me, please.

FOLKENFLIK: At the moment, Kelly's show is a bit of a jumble. Each episode involved pumping up one of the network's big shows.

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KELLY: I am so excited for this segment. I, like so many of you, also watched "Will And Grace" religiously.

(APPLAUSE)

FOLKENFLIK: Kelly also promoted NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and the new True Crime chapter of the "Law And Order" juggernaut focusing on two brothers who made national headlines for killing their parents a generation ago. Kelly gamely conducted a telephone interview with Lyle Menendez, one of the brothers. Not to give away the ending, but he remains incarcerated.

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KELLY: This may sound like an odd question, but is there any joy in your life?

FOLKENFLIK: Not all of Kelly's guests got joy from appearing on her show. Jane Fonda and Robert Redford joined Kelly to speak about their new movie. Years ago on Fox, Kelly had belittled Fonda as beyond the pale politically because of her anti-war activism during Vietnam - not this week, just a good old-fashioned celebrity interview.

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KELLY: You've been an example to everyone in how to age beautifully and with strength and...

(APPLAUSE)

FOLKENFLIK: Then it goes off the rails. Kelly asks about Fonda's plastic surgery.

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KELLY: Why did you say - I read that you said you felt you're not proud to admit you've had work done. Why not?

JANE FONDA: We really want to talk about that now?

(LAUGHTER)

FOLKENFLIK: That laughter masks a withering look from Fonda. Later that day, a reporter for "Entertainment Tonight Canada" asks Fonda whether she was shocked by the question.

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FONDA: It was a weird thing to bring up, whether I've had plastic surgery or not. I have, and I've talked about it. But it just seemed like the wrong time and the place to raise that question.

FOLKENFLIK: "Will And Grace" star Debra Messing told a fan on Instagram that she regretted participating in interviews on Kelly's show after a joke about a gay fan. Let's acknowledge that ghosts of Fox News hover over Kelly. That network is polarizing, and it tends to drum empathy out of its stars, the qualities she most needs to demonstrate for the kind of show she's now doing.

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KELLY: It's been very exciting. It has been educational. I've just been so delighted at the media response which is really - no.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: But the viewer response has been awesome. And I am so grateful...

FOLKENFLIK: The show's success is likely to depend on how authentic viewers find this new incarnation of Megyn Kelly to be. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.