(NEW YORK) — Three months ago the idea that Megyn Kelly would make news this week about President Donald Trump seemed unthinkable, but it illustrates her journey in establishing her NBC show as a destination for a national discussion about sexual misconduct.
Kelly interviewed four women who accused Trump of inappropriate behavior. In recent weeks, she’s spoken with accusers of Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, Bill O’Reilly, Roy Moore and Mark Halperin, as well as women who allege they were harassed on Capitol Hill.
“Megyn Kelly Today” now has a more substantive edge and viewers have responded. Time magazine, which honored “The Silence Breakers” as its Person of the Year, cited Kelly as its leader in the entertainment field.
“I feel like I’m in a good place right now and so is the show,” she said. “It’s starting to gel.”
Introduced with fanfare in September, the show initially seemed lost. Exhausted by her battles with Trump while at Fox News Channel, Kelly sought freedom from political topics and NBC wanted to establish her with lighter fare. Interviews with Hollywood figures Jane Fonda and Debra Messing, who either resisted Kelly’s questioning or resisted her, backfired with bad publicity.
Then, on Friday night of Columbus Day weekend, Kelly read a Huffington Post account of television reporter Lauren Sivan’s disturbing encounter with Weinstein. Sivan was an acquaintance, so Kelly called and suggested an interview. Sivan accepted.
“It was powerful,” Kelly said. “It was compelling, and we had such good feedback on it. It felt right to me and we were sort of dogged about staying on it.”
With the #metoo movement exploding, she found an issue that resonated.
“It was synergistic,” she said. “It was working for the women. It was working for me. It was working for the show.”
“Megyn Kelly Today” isn’t yet a home run, trailing in its time slot to “Live with Kelly and Ryan.” Yet its direction is positive: the show averaged 2.29 million viewers in October and 2.67 million in December so far, the Nielsen company said. Monday’s show with Trump accusers had more than 2.9 million viewers, one of her biggest audiences despite not being carried in New York because of news coverage of the subway bomb attack.
And it was interesting that when veteran “Live with Kelly and Ryan” producer Michael Gelman talked to The New York Times about his show’s lighter fare, he mentioned “counterprogramming the more depressing parts of life” elsewhere. Fox News’ Laura Ingraham snarkily remarked Tuesday that Kelly’s interviews with accusers of powerful Republican men seemed like a daily feature. They are signs she’s getting noticed.
Kelly, who has written about being propositioned by the late Fox News chief Roger Ailes, brings an understanding to the topic she feels viewers and interview subjects relate to.
This guides her in conversation. She makes it a point to ask women how they felt in the moment of their incidents. She avoids the questions that she felt were offensive about Ailes when she went on a book tour.
For many women, workplace assaults happen when they are expecting something completely different.
“There’s this notion that you’ve been lured into an office or a restaurant with the expectation of something good happening in your career, something you’ve earned, and there’s this moment when a switch flips and you realize, ‘oh my God, this is about getting in my pants,’” she said.
“This isn’t about being recognized for my hard work. This is a come-on or, in reference to Weinstein, this is an assault. Without being too dramatic, it’s the death of a dream in a moment that most men don’t understand when they think about harassment.”
Kelly took on former Fox colleague O’Reilly to specifically refute some statements he had made about cases against him, and bluntly discussed Matt Lauer on the day the “Today” host’s firing for misconduct was announced.
Yet it’s not a man hater’s club. Kelly’s recent conversation with actor Alec Baldwin transcended the usual Hollywood chat when the topic was discussed. She says she would welcome men accused of sexual misconduct to talk about their cases.
While the topic isn’t addressed every day, it has convinced Kelly there’s room for meatier material at the top of her show. Recently, for example, she interviewed the baker involved in a U.S. Supreme Court case because he refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
“It’s to the credit of people at home, who I sometimes think are underestimated,” she said. “They are interested in more than just pure fun. They can take informational, in-depth discussions about our country and our culture, and then they can easily turn the page with us to ‘greatest tech gadgets as gifts for 2017 Christmas.’”