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Megyn Kelly’s Fox News Departure Changed the Top of News Industry

Since departing from NBC in 2019, Megyn Kelly has mostly stayed off of television. Rewind four years ago, she was en route to a claim as the biggest TV star in news media.

In his new book, Hoax, Brian Stelter details Kelly’s unprecedented options in 2016. With an expiring Fox News contract, Kelly had offers to front several of the most influential shows on television. It was her pick; they all wanted her.

Kelly ultimately chose NBC. Though, due to a blackface controversy, her time at the network, which paid her around $20 million annually, lasted just two years.

Fox News’ offer was staggering. The Bill O’Reilly, four-year, $100 million investment. It further proves the network, with and without Roger Ailes, saw Kelly as the heir apparent to O’Reilly, who was the biggest draw in cable news.

Kelly had it all: entertaining, smart, unique, and most importantly, unpredictable. She was ascending from TV star to celebrity. For one debate, she, not now-President Donald Trump, was the post-show story.

Her decision to leave Fox News (she explained why here; reports provided other details) changed the top of the news industry. Her domino effect was unparalleled.

Since her departure, Sean Hannity re-emerged from a primetime host to the primetime host. A level he couldn’t reach with O’Reilly — whose contract was terminated in 2017 amid sexual harassment lawsuits – employed by Fox, and later following Kelly.

From 2016 to now, the Trump years, Hannity has drawn ratings that defy TV projections. He’s back at 9 pm and is the biggest star on cable news.

In addition, Tucker Carlson, who elevated once Kelly left, now supports newspapers’ media opinion sections. He’s written about daily. Left-wing writers are employed to dissect his every word.

Nightly, Carlson and Hannity battle for the top show on cable news. The flamethrowers routinely draw over 4 million viewers and are separated by fewer than 100,000. In Q2 of 2020, Tucker Carlson Tonight drew the highest viewership for a cable news show on record: 4,331,000 million. An average just 20,000 higher than Hannity, who topped Carlson in Q1 and in July.

Fox News’ current one-two punch lands from two different directions. Carlson is at the center of the culture war, leading a side with monologues no one else would dare present. Like Rogan, despite numerous on-going tries, he can’t be canceled. To the mainstream media and social media, Carlson is threat No. 1.

Hannity, on the other hand, stays close to Washington: right vs. left, Trump vs. Biden, hoax vs. reality. He has direct access to the president and top politicians.

That’s for Fox. Imagine a Megyn Kelly-led CNN?

The CNN route would’ve been fascinating. She would’ve gone head-to-head with Hannity and Rachel Maddow at 9 p.m. CNN doesn’t compete in total viewership with its rivals but tops MSNBC in the 25-54 demo. If Kelly fit at CNN, she would’ve been the network’s most recognizable talent, ahead of even Anderson Cooper. But she may not have meshed with its audience.

Since 2016, CNN went from soft-left, as Lachlan Murdoch put it, to far-left. The change is on par with ESPN’s, which occurred around the same time.

(Either way, Kelly certainly tops CNN’s current 9 p.m. bodybuilding, TikTok flexing host, Andrew Cuomo’s brother, Chris Cuomo any day of the week.)

Long-term, Kelly’s fate on ABC and GMA likely would’ve resembled her stint at NBC. The offer, though, shows the status she elevated herself to. Perhaps, never again will a TV talent have a $100 million cable news offer and the option to star on either Today or GMA, the two leading morning shows in the country.

We knew her decision would be game-changing. However, no one envisioned these results. If Kelly can, at some point, land back at a prominent conservative channel, she could again re-shape this discussion. And she should get that chance.

To interview Bobby Burack, contact him on Twitter @burackbobby_.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers any news story that deserves attention but focuses on media. His interests include reading Stephen King novels, avoiding traffic on the road, and pretending to solve true-crime mysteries. He still believes Cersei should've won and encourages everyone to always question the news.

12 Comments

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  1. I’m tired of reading about her. She is a weak personality and will say or do anything for cash.

    Bill O’reilly would give her legal topics to discuss on his show. She would show up and repeat whatever someone else would tell her (judge Andrew Napolotano) and put on some lip gloss and talk. She never sounded like she knew anything more than the obvious.

    She parlayed her sexiness into $millions. She should be hosting the View or Home Shopping Network.

  2. Regardless of which channel they watch, everyone who watches prime time cable news has one common characteristic, they are almost always unhappy people. I love Tucker’s books and occasionally read his opinion pieces, but you can put the rest of the cable news pinheads in a rocket and shoot it into space with the NBA for all I care.

  3. She tried to head shot Trump with the first question in the first GOP debate in 2016, and he counter punched perfectly. She lost that battle and her career has never been the same since. Even with the big cash in that she had later that year, the NBC deal was never going to work for her. That audience and news rooms over there were never going to accept her.

  4. I love Tucker and he truly has changed the game by taking on the worst of American media and politics but Kelly was way more then a pretty face. She was tough and sharp and at the top of her game. She made a mistake leaving fox but is crying all the way to the bank. She will be back, and better then ever, I think people are still mad about her unfair but factual attack on Trump but if you follow her on the socials she is taking the left on regularly and she will pop up on TV again soon no doubt.

  5. Sorry Bobby, I appreciate what you are trying to do. She has nothing to do with sports or anything else meaningful for the conversation about sports media or media in general other than what some other members have already said. Just don’t see how this article relates to anything in the world of sports

  6. I just read your other article about the rioting, Bobby. You are doing great! I understand now your role at Outkick. My apologies for not reading your profile first. Keep up the great work and keep fighting the good fight!

  7. When she went to NBC & started moving to the center Michael Savage called her “the news dancer”, said she was being controlled by media elites, and predicted her crash. I thought it was more typical Savage shock radio; and then she did just that, crashed hard. She has demonstrated that the she can be blown by the political winds, and those of us that pay attention to such matters should not be fooled again.

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