Megyn Kelly is having trouble connecting with her audience post-Fox News
A few weeks into her new daytime talk show for NBC, Megyn Kelly is still struggling to find her voice and traction with her audience, a battle that’s reflected by some lukewarm ratings.
The New York Times reported that Kelly’s first week averaged around 2.5 million viewers. Her debut on Monday, Sept. 25, nabbed 2.93 million viewers (and 917,000 in the key 25 to 54 age bracket), according to Variety.
By comparison, at Fox News, The Kelly File averaged around 2.72 million viewers a night in 2016.
However, Kelly’s second week at NBC saw a significant decrease, and reports claim her numbers are starting to drag down NBC’s morning ratings overall for the Today franchise, which she is the third hour of.
Megyn Kelly ratings going south: Last week, her hour had 2.2 million viewers, and 0.5 in the demo. Down 24% and 38% from same week year ago
— John Koblin (@koblin) October 10, 2017
According to the New York Post, Kelly’s ratings are down 32 percent for the same time slot for NBC last year, and the fourth hour of Today, hosted by Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, which Kelly leads into, has seen a decrease of 26 percent.
Those falling numbers point to an issue with the show that might not be fixable: Kelly is still trying to find her post-Fox News voice in a wider, unfamiliar TV landscape.
The Inauthentic Megyn Kelly
Authenticity is an important aspect of any television host in terms of connecting with the audience. And that’s where Kelly falls flat.
Viewers don’t seem to be buying Kelly’s attempt at mass appeal after years of politically charged commentary at Fox News. An inauspicious start to her more news-y output for NBC News probably hasn’t helped.
In our look at her first week, I noted Kelly’s peculiar answer to an audience member’s question about how she thinks the country can survive such a divided political climate.
This, of course, is in opposition to everything Kelly represented during her Fox News show, as many have pointed out.
Granted, Kelly is still new to daytime, but she’s got a lot of ground to make up if she wants to catch her competition.
Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t nearly as well-known coming in to her role as Kelly is. Yet Ellen is an affable personality who knows how to read her audience and play to it.
When you start a new show saddled with a history that may have alienated half your potential viewers, the obstacles to winning the audience over are going to be that much harder to overcome.
It doesn’t help that the show seems to have an identity crisis on its hands. Understandably, Kelly’s background means she’s comfortable tackling harder news moments, as seen with her panel on gun control following the Las Vegas shooting.
It’s the looser, more culturally-oriented parts of her show where Kelly struggles, like that infamous debut week moment in which Kelly was chided by Jane Fonda for bringing up her plastic surgery.
Likewise, stumbling through an interview with a Will & Grace fan on her debut — featuring the painful question “Is it true you became a lawyer and you became gay because of ‘Will’?” — was an equally painful moment.
In her defense, there have been moments in which Kelly seems to have found her footing. Tuesday’s episode featured strong words against designer Donna Karan for Karan’s comments backing Harvey Weinstein.
It’s territory that’s sadly familiar to Kelly, given the harassment she faced from former Fox News honcho Roger Ailes. Her personal experiences — as well as the infamously misogynistic comments Trump made about her in 2015 — are deeply felt here, and show the ability to connect with viewers in a way other segments haven’t.
It’s something she can certainly build on. Her show hasn’t even been on the air for three weeks, after all.
What happens next
At Fox News, Kelly was a big fish in a small pond with a limited target audience. Now she’s competing in a much larger landscape where comfort, not controversy, is the big appeal.
It’s possible Kelly will peak just shy of 3 million daily viewers. That’s not terrible. But it’s not what NBC was hoping for, given Kelly’s substantial deal with the network. And it’s behind daytime talk show opponents Dr. Phil, Live With Kelly and Ryan, and Ellen.
If Kelly and NBC hope to keep pace with those competitors, they’re going to have to make adjustments on the fly to turn around not just the ratings, but also public perception of Kelly herself, which might hurt the show just as much as any ratings decline.