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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.
Here’s the book’s section on Megyn Kelly’s 2016 negotiations. Offers: GMA, CNN, NBC, re-signing at Fox 4-years, $100M.
If she stayed, no telling how big she could’ve been. And what it would’ve done to Tucker Carlson’s rise. Now, Carlson is close to Hannity at the top of industry pic.twitter.com/5Y25EcVFT2
— Bobby Burack (@burackbobby_) August 30, 2020
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.
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_.