by Chez Pazienza
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but NBC is about to royally fuck up an on-air talent transition, screwing over marquee names, angering its audience, and instantly tainting the new face it paid a lot of money to see on its programming. We could be talking about the Conan/Leno debacle from back in 2010. Or the infamous, emotional Ann Curry exit in 2012, which led to a major ratings dive for Today. Or the very public humiliation of NBC vet and doomed Meet the Press host David Gregory in 2014. As it's been before, many times, so shall it be again. NBC never met a big transition or a roll-out it couldn't mismanage, which doesn't bode well for the network and the brand new shiny toy it's soon going to be obsessing over, Megyn Kelly.
We knew NBC News had poached Kelly from Fox News and that it planned to basically engage in Megyn Kelly overkill once she arrived, giving her an hour-long, weekday news/talk show, a panel-style show on Sundays, and a permanent seat at the political table. Now, though, we're learning just where Kelly's weekday show will go and, more importantly, who's going to be pushed aside to make room for it. According to reports that circulated late last week, Kelly will be dropped into the middle of the Today show lineup, taking over either the third or fourth hour of the show and remaking it as her own separate entity. Here's the thing, though: Regardless of what hour Kelly lands in, the Today hosts who end up being displaced will be the same.
According to the report, it's Al Roker and Tamron Hall, of Today's third hour, who'll be shown the door at studio 1A. If Kelly's show takes over that third hour, the transition will be a straight replacement; if her show takes over Today's fourth hour, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb will simply move to the third hour, and, again, goodbye Al and Tamron. Roker will of course continue his duties on the formal Today show, with Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, but the move could spell the end of Hall's time at the network, so go the rumors (although NBC is, predictably, dismissing that talk, saying it plans to continue her contract). Either way, a show that just celebrated its seventh week at the top of the ratings will be no more and its hosts will be off doing other things.
Now, if you didn't really know any of the people involved here, maybe none of this would seem like a big deal. So somebody new comes in and replaces a couple of people already there -- happens all the time in TV. Them's the breaks, kids. But we know who these people are, what one's political opinions are and, more specifically, what exactly everyone involved here looks like, if you get my drift. In case you don't, let Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson spell it out for you in no uncertain terms.
Do you see the problem here? Replacing a couple of marquee hosts on a number one show was already going to be an issue because obviously the audience is big and those hosts are part of the reason for it. Replacing them with Megyn Kelly, someone who arrives as a divisive presence a certain segment of the audience will simply refuse to watch no matter what -- but especially given that she's pushed out a couple of viewer favorites -- would be an even bigger issue. But top all of that off with the fact that the move supplants two black hosts with one white woman, and you've got a recipe for a PR nightmare. Put simply, NBC really couldn't have picked a worse duo for Megyn Kelly, of all people, to bum rush -- that is if it wants to avoid another embarrassing audience backlash.
That backlash, by the way, has already begun in the wake of the reports. The Root has recently published a piece titled "NBC Ain't Shit," which not only bemoans the pushing out of Roker and Hall to make room for Kelly, but which openly targets some of the racist red meat Kelly has thrown out to Fox News's audience of Neanderthals in the past. Meanwhile, Twitter has of course already erupted with anger and outrage, with everyone from average Today show fans to black thought leaders complaining about the move. Again, the show is not only a cultural landmark given that it's hosted by not one but two black faces, it also happens to be number one in the ratings. People like Al Roker and Tamron Hall. Sure, you need a place to put Kelly given that you just paid, reportedly, between $12 and $18 mil a year for her, but when that comes at the expense of two hosts and a show the audience has given you big numbers for, you're asking for trouble.
And that's really the thing here. If this report is true, NBC is once again stepping directly onto a land mine it could have easily avoided. The network definitely has a history of bending over backward when it falls in love with new talent, and that's of course what's happening here, but it's very likely overestimating the kind of pull Megyn Kelly will have, given that, barring a major public realignment of her politics, she could very well be treated as radioactive by audiences given her lengthy association with Fox News. Fox is a separate entity from the community of responsible news organizations. It's popular and "credible" only with those who share its political views and who therefore watch it exclusively. It's entirely possible Kelly just won't translate outside of its four walls.
Those are the basics. That's not even accounting for Al Roker and Tamron Hall continuing to build an audience and a successful brand for the next however-long, only to be replaced by a Megyn Kelly that's been out of the national spotlight for the months between when her show at Fox ended and her new one at NBC begins. (She has a non-compete that will keep her off the air for months after signing off Fox earlier in January.) Go ahead and picture what Roker and Hall's bittersweet final show together will look like. Just give it a try, and immediately it will be clear how audiences might be inclined to ignore Kelly altogether after they've seen it, just on principle. No, neither Al Roker nor Tamron Hall are likely to break down as Ann Curry once did, but it still won't be pretty. (Not prettier will be if NBC decides to pull a Gregory and refuse to even allow Roker and Hall a final show together.)
What NBC is doing is making Kelly an unwelcome presence right off the bat, which, like her or not, is somewhat unfair. She may have an uphill battle as it is, and it's looking like NBC will only make things worse, hanging an albatross around her neck from day one by making her very arrival an unnecessarily controversial one. It'd be nice to be able to react with shock that the network could be so clueless, but this is, after all, NBC we're talking about here. We've seen this kind of thing before and we're apparently about to see it again.