Now that Megyn Kelly is on her way out from “Today,” where does she go from here?
Multiple crisis PR and media experts agree that Kelly’s ouster involved her disappointing ratings, not just her defense of blackface at Halloween. While her refusal to be politically correct could make her a conservative martyr, her lack of an audience complicates any potential comeback.
As of Friday afternoon, Kelly was still employed by NBC News, which only announced that she wouldn’t return to her year-old morning show, “Megyn Kelly Today.” NBC News did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for clarification on her status with the network. Reps for Kelly did not immediately respond, either.
“Bottom line, it’s a business decision. She’s very expensive without the following,” Richard Levick, chairman of crisis management firm Levick, told TheWrap.
He added that companies have repeatedly put up with bad behavior from top employees — as long as they’re getting results: “University of Indiana would have continued to buy chairs for Bobby Knight to throw, as long as he was winning.”
But Kelly’s ratings did nothing to justify the reported three-year, $69 million contract NBC offered her last year to leave Fox News, where her primetime show was the No. 2 cable news program, behind only Bill O’Reilly’s.
“She does not come across as a good investment right now and that is going to have to change,” Levick said.
But others see a possible path to redemption.
“I think NBC jumped the gun,” said Evan Nierman, founder of the crisis PR firm Red Banyan. “They appointed themselves judge, jury and career executioner. I don’t believe this is a death sentence for her.”
But where could she go? Fox News has already signaled that it isn’t jockeying to get Kelly back. “We are extremely happy with our entire line-up,” the network said in a statement.
Kelly was among the prominent women at Fox News who came forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against late chairman Roger Ailes and star anchor Bill O’Reilly, which led the ouster of both.
Her speaking out earned her respect. But Nierman said she also “ruffled a lot of feathers and burned a lot of bridges” at Fox News.
Still, he said, she could return if the network things her old audience will return with her. “Fox craves ratings. It’s not unthinkable she could end up back there,” Nierman said.
But Levick says conservatives may “view her as a traitor” for leaving Fox News for NBC, and that she may now have no home on either side of the aisle.
That may leave Kelly with a third option: Going out on her own.
Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, argues that, at least in the short term, Kelly’s “blackface” comments make her radioactive.
“Anybody that would hire her after that would be making the PR statement that the standards that NBC had in getting rid of her are higher than theirs,” he said. “Most execs wouldn’t want to send that kind of message.”
But he said Kelly could follow the lead of Glenn Beck and O’Reilly in starting up her own online media operation.
“If she could bring her entire ‘Megyn Kelly Today’ viewership to an online venture, that’s a substantial number of people,” he said.