Megyn Kelly’s Blackface Comment Killed Her NBC Show. Her Controversial Career Already Had It on Life Support
Megyn Kelly Today was officially canceled by NBC on Friday, according to an NBC News spokesperson who confirmed that beginning next week, the 9 a.m. hour will be hosted by other Today co-anchors.
As of Thursday afternoon, NBC had not confirmed if Kelly has been fired from the network, but People had confirmed via multiple sources that Kelly’s show has been canceled, which was also reported by NPR. It has also been reported that Kelly’s talent managers at Creative Arts Agency (CAA) have dropped her as a client.
Kelly made comments on her 9 a.m. morning show on Tuesday in which she defended the use of blackface in Halloween costumes. Following criticism from colleagues including Al Roker, Kelly apologized for her remarks on Wednesday. But it seems this scandal was too much for network executives to stomach. Kelly did not host her segment of Today on Thursday.
Kelly joined NBC in January 2017 after 12 years on Fox, where she was also the subject of numerous scandals. She was reportedly offered $25 million a year to stay at Fox but decamped for NBC in January 2017 anyway. Her NBC contract called for her to host an hour-long morning news slot, as well as a Sunday evening news hour and participate in some special events coverage.
NPR reports negotiations between Kelly and NBC are ongoing. There is a possibility she may receive a severance of $69 million—the total worth of her three-year NBC contract—as she exits the show. In 2017, Kelly’s annual salary at NBC was a reported $23 million, which made her the highest paid anchor on the NBC network and one of the highest-paid female TV news anchors ever. As host of The Kelly File on Fox, her contract for at least the final year of her show was reportedly worth $15 million a year. If Kelly was to negotiate with NBC for the full contractual sum, her net worth could be at least $100 million.
In early October, Kelly appeared at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit, where she urged women to consider men’s role in the #MeToo movement. She also called the hearings to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh “a farce,” comments that were fairly benign compared to Kelly’s history of controversial remarks. Here are some of Kelly’s more notable scandals that brought us to this moment.
Kelly’s Jane Fonda Flap
Once she moved to NBC, Kelly’s Today hour courted controversy in its first week, when Kelly insulted guest Jane Fonda by bringing up the actress’ plastic surgery. After Fonda expressed dissatisfaction about Kelly’s interview to other media outlets, Kelly then devoted another monologue on her show to defending her questions while also questioning the actress’ patriotism, including Fonda’s Vietnam War-era activism.
Graceless Will and Grace Question
Kelly also created tension during a Today reunion of cast members from the NBC show Will and Grace, in which she asked a fan of the show whether watching the sitcom influenced his decision to become a lawyer, as well as gay. Actress Debra Messing, who portrayed the character Grace, said she was “dismayed” by Kelly’s remarks and regretted going on the show.
Courting Controversy With InfoWars’ Alex Jones
Kelly’s Sunday evening NBC show also caused uproar when she booked and interviewed polarizing guests including InfoWars host Alex Jones, who spreads conspiracy theories about numerous topics, including the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. The decision to bring Jones on the show lost at least one advertiser, J.P. Morgan Chase, and cost Kelly a gig hosting a gala for an anti-gun violence group.
Ratings Trouble at NBC
Another storm Kelly was constantly weathering: ratings. Viewership for Megyn Kelly Today remained low throughout the show’s tenure and despite the significant spending to boost the show, including a $10 million studio redesign for Kelly’s segment. In April 2018, ratings for Kelly’s Today segment were down 18% below the previous season, a disappointing drop for the network given how much NBC News relies on Today as a revenue and profit center. Today generates more than $500 million in revenue and more than $100 million in profits annually, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Insisting on a White Santa and Jesus
Kelly, a lawyer and former litigator, joined Fox News as a news anchor in 2004. In terms of towering controversies, Kelly may be most remembered for a 2013 Fox segment, during which she insisted that Santa Claus is white, and that Jesus Christ was also white. (Historians continue to debate Jesus’ possible ethnic origins, race and appearance.) Kelly said both figures should be portrayed as white in the media. She later apologized.
At a 2017 Business Insider conference, Kelly admitted, “I regret a lot of what I’ve said.” That is probably still true today.