NBC’s “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” kicks off this weekend and the former Fox News star isn’t focused on ratings as much as simply putting on a great show. But she’s well aware — they’re both important.
“Lets not kid ourselves. Television remains a business. It’s not just some noble pursuit that we offer for people’s benefaction,” Kelly told TheWrap during a recent interview. “But if you let that ratings trap dominate your thinking, you can become handicapped by it,” she said. “My own belief is if you do great journalism and compelling storytelling, they will come.”
Kelly walked away from Fox News when her contract ended back in January, despite a massive offer to stick around. She was the second-most watched anchor in all of cable news last year, after the recently ousted Bill O’Reilly, so the NBC gig comes with lofty expectations. Luckily for Kelly, she doesn’t let it faze her.
“I just don’t think about things like that. It’s not helpful and not productive to think about, ‘What if I fail? What if I win? How can I win?’ That’s never been how I’ve approached anything I’ve done. All I’ve ever done is put my head down and work as hard as I possibly could,” Kelly said.
The anchor said she’s “not one of those people” who sets specific ratings goals, and instead focuses on “doing great journalism” and building an audience over time.
“I tune out the nonsense and work really damn hard… If it’s not working, work even harder. If it’s still not working, think about how you can make changes. That’s always worked for me,” Kelly said.
The first episode of “Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” will feature a conversation with Vladimir Putin, although it’s currently unknown whether or not she will sit down with him exclusively or simply use clips from an event she’s moderating this week that feature the Russian president.
If Kelly keeps landing chats with people such as Putin, she probably won’t have to worry about her ratings. However, Kelly and senior executive producer David Corvo agree that a patient bosses are a key to starting a successful show. NBC News chairman Andy Lack and president Noah Oppenheim, they say, are in this for the long haul.
“Megyn is a long-term part of NBC News and, in a funny way, they’ve tried to relieve the pressure and just say, ‘Go out and really work on making good programs,'” Corvo told TheWrap.
Lack and Oppenheim have placed “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly” directly against CBS’s “60 Minutes.” And the culture they have created has helped ease any concerns about taking on the legacy program.
“They’re a behemoth in news, not just in news but in television,” Kelly said. “We’re the new kids on the block. We’re launching a new show and we’re trying to just do our own thing. We’re certainly not expecting to take down ’60 Minutes.'”
Kelly has been calling her time away from the spotlight her “garden leave” and sad she barely watched any news on television in the five months since she signed off from “The Kelly File” for the final time on Fox News. She said she consumed print media “almost exclusively” as she prepared to join NBC.
“I have to say it was kind of nice, just for a break, for a different way of getting my information,” Kelly said. “Now that I’m working again, I have two TVs in my office and I literally rotate. At any given time I have either Fox, CNN and MSNBC on either one and I mix it up.”
Kelly was already a cable news superstar when she moderated a 2015 Fox News GOP presidential primary debate but she became a household name when she confronted Donald Trump about his treatment of women during the most-watched non-sporting event in cable news history.
Trump publicly attacked Kelly following the event, skipped a Fox News debate because of her involvement and eventually agreed to an interview where the two appeared to be on good terms. Despite her rocky-yet-fascinating relationship with now-President Trump, the NBC News host isn’t sorry she skipped covering the first few months of his presidency.
“Hell no. I enjoyed it. It was delightful being on the sidelines for a change and, believe it or not, there is life outside of political coverage,” Kelly said. “There is a whole world you can live that doesn’t rise or fall depending on what President Trump or the media covering him do.”
Kelly said she’s really happy that her new show doesn’t simply focus on politics.
“The diet I’ll be consuming is much better rounded,” she said. “It’ll be more reflective of who I am as a person.”
Each episode will feature three pieces that could be a combination of interviews, investigations and stories on a particular week. NBC News correspondents including Cynthia McFadden, Harry Smith, Kate Snow, Craig Melvin, Jacob Soboroff, Keith Morrison and Josh Mankiewicz are also scheduled to appear on the show.
“Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly” premieres Sunday, June 4 at 7 p.m. ET on NBC.