Is Megyn Kelly the next Oprah?

August 10, 2015, 12:00 PM UTC
Fox News Channel debate moderators Wallace, Kelly and Baier start the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland
Fox News Channel debate moderators (L-R), Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Brett Baier, start the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk - RTX1NEKI
Photograph by Aaron Josefczyk — Reuters

Donald Trump had a tough weekend. During the GOP presidential debate, Megyn Kelly of Fox News Channel challenged him on his history of offensive remarks toward women. Then, after Trump complained about Kelly saying, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” he unleashed a fierce backlash.

The RedState Gathering, a conservative group, cancelled Trump’s keynote address, citing the “inappropriate comments.” The conservative group Concerned Women for America’s CEO Penny Young Nance told CNN, “[Trump’s] tantrum was even more enlightening than his original remarks she questioned.”

Sentiment has been clearly on Kelly’s side, and her performance at the debate — which had a record 24 million viewers- – is likely to propel her career even further.

Here’s what you need to know about Megyn Kelly.

How she got started

Her rise in media is often described as meteoric, though it’s anything but overnight. Kelly, 44, started her career as a corporate lawyer, a career that she didn’t enjoy. Working her way up from covering local and national stories for a Washington, D.C. station, according to her Fox News bio, she now hosts The Kelly File five days a week, which is the number two-ranked program in cable news, according to the network.

Kelly has a killer combination of a lawyer’s sharp mind, journalistic cred, aggression, drive, popularity, and savvy. Back in 2013, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was so impressed by her handling of a conservative commentator claiming that the rise of women in business ran counter to nature — “Who died and made you scientist in chief?” she asked him — that the tech powerhouse cold-called Kelly and said, “I love you, you are awesome.”


Her earning power

TV Guide estimated Kelly’s annual salary at $6 million. But that was two years ago, around the time she renewed her contract. Given her recent performances, expect her to negotiate sharply upward, as she’s at least as important to Fox as its top star, Bill O’Reilly. Kelly is a ratings magnet on Fox and considered by Time as one of the 100 most influential people.

Her biggest TV moments

In the 2012 election and with the polls still open, Fox analysts at the network’s so-called decision desk said that Ohio would go to Barack Obama, which would tip the election in his favor. Fox commentator Karl Rove insisted that the analysts were wrong. Kelly walked Rove down and interviewed the heads of the decision desk.


There was her scoop, the first interview with TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” reality stars Jim Bob and Michelle in which they discussed their son’s alleged molestation of his sisters:


And Kelly’s major clash with Trump:


Fox News has big plans for Kelly

Television news anchors and personalities are hired largely because of their ability to deliver ratings, which translate into the ability to charge advertisers more. Although Fox says that Kelly’s program is number two in cable news, she has shown even more robust ratings strength, including strong performance with the crucial 25 to 54 demographic.

That’s critical to the network because advertisers want to reach the group and Fox skews considerably older. She can even get liberals cheering at times. Add some major coups, like the Duggars interviews, and it’s no wonder the network has bigger plans for her.

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Fox News CEO Roger Ailes told Variety that Kelly will have a series of primetime specials on Fox News starting early next year. These one-hour interviews will look like her Duggars scoop. “Barbara Walters has retired,” Kelly told Variety. “Diane Sawyer left her anchor role. Oprah has moved to the OWN network and is doing a different thing now. So why not me?”

Ailes is supportive: “Listen, Megyn is so good today that there is no interview I would not want her to do.” Most importantly, so is Rupert Murdoch, CEO and chairman of News Corp, which owns all things Fox. He tweeted his support for Kelly and the other two Fox News moderators:

Her future as the next Oprah

It’s one thing to be a big name in news, but another to create an empire. Kelly’s steady rise is an important characteristic for a future mogul, but so is her interest in taking on the business aspects of creating and controlling television.

She’s currently co-developing a show called The Resident, a beltway cross between Downton Abbey and House of Cards with actor Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti’s Trigger Street Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, and Fox 21 Television Studios.

Oprah Winfrey became a billionaire by moving beyond status as a media personality and owning the intellectual property. Don’t be surprised if one day Kelly hits the even-bigger-time.