Megyn Kelly is leaving Fox News. The second-most-watched host on cable news will be taking on a tripartite role at NBC, anchoring a Sunday night news show, participating in coverage of major political events, and hosting a daytime news show. The wild card in this is the daytime show, which according to the New York Times will be “a mix of news, interviews and panel-like discussions covering a range of issues, not only government and politics.” Such a show was particularly appealing to Kelly because it would “give her a schedule that would allow her to see her children off to school and to have dinner with them and her husband.” On display here is exactly the kind of savvy that has made Kelly both a hit with conservatives and the occasional crush object of liberals; while making time to have dinner with her family, Kelly is pooh-poohing the macho prerogatives that have historically guided the careers of ambitious TV journalists.
The Times calls Kelly’s new deal the most “anticipated television news contract negotiations since Katie Couric signed with CBS News in 2006.” At that time, Couric was the longtime host of Today, NBC’s morning show, and she signed a $15 million deal with CBS to become the anchor of the CBS Evening News, the first woman to anchor a network news show solo. Couric’s five-year tenure was bedeviled by questions of her gravitas, a misogynist code word used to question a chipper woman’s ability to deliver hard news. (In 2012, after her contract with CBS ended, Couric gave a commencement address in which she said, “Some said I lacked gravitas, which I’ve since decided is Latin for testicles.”)
In 2012, Couric launched her own daytime talk show, Katie; Anderson Cooper also launched his daytime TV show (initially called … Anderson), in 2011, long after he’d cemented his image as a dignified newsman. Both of these shows were short-lived, but the entire logic underlying Couric and Cooper’s trajectories—that the grandest ambition a newsperson could have was the anchor gig—has been flayed. I’m a professional TV critic, and I would be hard-pressed to tell you the name of the nightly news anchors for NBC since Brian Williams’ demotion. Megyn Kelly could have had any job she wanted, and what she wanted was to keep a foot in hard news by anchoring a Sunday show and to have a platform to explore the “softer” news that will let her scrub off some of her conservative patina. Instead of building a career to be the heir of Rather, Jennings, and Brokaw, Kelly is positioning herself to be the scion of Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, whose storied, varied careers look more and more like the ne plus ultra of TV journalism rather than a failure to summit a major news desk. (Sawyer summited even this, becoming the anchor of ABC World News a few years after Couric started at CBS.) It’s impossible to know if Kelly’s daytime show will be any good, but she sure would be a slam dunk doing the “10 Most Fascinating People of the Year.”
In addition to now being able to sit down for dinner, Kelly can’t have failed to notice that there is something of a vacuum in the Oprah-free daytime space. Given how sporadically charming Kelly has made herself to people who detest Fox News, with her stance on maternity leave, her recent altercations with Donald Trump, and her capable handling of Karl Rove on election night 2012—the night that made her a star—a softball, bipartisan charm offensive could make quick work of that “sporadically.”* There are plenty of tea leaves to read in Kelly’s move, particularly about the focus of Fox and NBC News in the age of Trump, but for anyone looking for positive omens, consider that no less a canny media professional than Kelly thinks it’s a good time to get less partisan, not more.
*Correction, Jan. 3, 2017: This post originally misstated that Megyn Kelly capably handled Karl Rove on election night 2008. It was election night 2012.