“The truth is I am kinda done with politics for now,” Megyn Kelly said a few minutes into the inaugural installment of Megyn Kelly Today, the former Fox News anchor’s bespoke hour of NBC’s flagship morning show. As a pitch of herself and of her new show, it’s canny—it just isn’t true. Like a soda promising happiness, a beer promising machismo, or a cereal promising health, Megyn Kelly is promising apoliticism. As with the other products, she doesn’t have to deliver this quality, she just desperately needs to be associated with it.
Morning TV is one of the last places on television that is relentlessly cheerful, no matter what’s happening in the world, which is also to say that it has remained relatively nonpartisan (series like The View notwithstanding). When Kelly left Fox News for a contract at NBC that included a morning show, she was announcing that she hoped to become a beloved, nonpartisan mainstream figure, the sort of woman other women on both sides of the political divide like to watch goofily dance in the bright lights of a daytime TV set.
This woman, this goofy dancer, this celebrity interviewer, this cozy companion is who Megyn Kelly tried to introduce Monday morning. Kelly emerged onto the stage, before a studio audience, in black slacks and a pink pussy bow blouse; such are the state of affairs in our country that I wondered if that shirt wasn’t a wink at Melania, who wore a pink pussy bow blouse to a presidential debate. “I’m so, so excited. I’m also a little nervous,” Kelly said, to applause. “We will be dissecting the latest tweet from President Trump … oh no, we will not be doing that.” That coy psych-out led to her declaration that she is done with politics. “It’s gotten so dark!” That Kelly spent years working at a network that made an unparalleled contribution to that darkness is, well— look, she’s here now, and she would like to share a mimosa with you!
Kelly is and always has been an able and appealing on-air presence, even when she’s as nervous and rushed as she was on Monday. That’s why NBC wanted her. But she left nothing to chance in this first episode, presenting herself to the audience mostly as the product of her relationships with other people in her family—a sympathetic daughter, a loving mother, a doted-upon wife—and rarely as the controversial woman she herself has become. She introduced her mother in the audience, and told a story about how her father suddenly died when she was a child, 10 days before Christmas, the cameraman zooming in for a close-up like a car doing 95 on the interstate. Her father’s death, and his love of the John Denver song “Today,” taught Kelly to cherish the time that she has on earth and to use it well.
This segued into her resume: She had been a lawyer and “then I went on to be a TV anchor, which was good—until it wasn’t,” she said to laughter from the studio audience. By the 2016 election, there was “so much division, so much outrage, and I wasn’t happy, but I was scared of change.” It took some courage, but she found the will to, as the title of her memoir instructs, settle for more. More time with her family, more joy in her life. So here she is! On your TV this morning! The most challenging thing these days? The alarm clock. Her biggest joy? Well, really, “all of it.” But especially having dinner with her family. The world may be going to pieces all around us, but not around Megyn Kelly.
Having introduced the nonpartisan Megyn Kelly with words, Megyn Kelly Today introduced the bipartisan Kelly with segments displaying she could play to both sides of the divide she’s claiming to ignore. Kelly’s first guests were the cast of the revived Will & Grace, the NBC sitcom which has been credited with popularizing gay marriage. That’s about as apolitical a subject as, well, gay marriage. But Kelly introduced the show simply by celebrating its place in the culture, describing herself as a huge fan and showing an old clip of Jack and Will kissing on The Today Show. The ageless cast members, cramped into one loveseat , fielded a handful of lame questions from Kelly. “Any teaser on current events?” she asked Megan Mullally, whose character Karen is best friends with Donald and Melania Trump in the new episodes. “What do you mean, everything is going great,” Mullally replied, tugging at her collar, Dangerfield-style. Kelly then supplied her own interpretation of the new episodes: “It doesn’t get on full-on political. They skirt around the edges, and they singe but don’t burn,” she said, holding out an olive branch to any viewers who might be getting a different feeling.
The show’s final segment was a sop to those same viewers: a piece on Sister Donna Liette, a 77-year-old white nun who works in violent neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago. “It’s like a war zone,” Kelly said to Sister Liette in their interview, as she outlined the sister’s work with young black men and a largely black group of grieving mothers. Sister Liette is remarkable, but this was a quintessentially Fox News way to cover the quintessential Fox News topic of violence in Chicago: through the perspective of a white, Christian, nongovernmental actor. The black mothers with whom she works joined her later, but were largely silent. Kelly then surprised Sister Liette with two oversize checks, from Ace Hardware and Coldwell Banker, to buy and fix up another Southside property. Small businesses, a nun, and Megyn Kelly: solving institutional and endemic racism.
In between these segments, Kelly bonded with her Today show colleagues: biking with Al, dancing with Hoda, flipping an egg with Matt. The funniest moment came when she met Kathie Lee in the make-up room. Hoda and Kelly—if she has her way, I guess she’ll soon be Megyn—had appeared on camera without make-up, but Kathie Lee already had her face on when Kelly kissed the ring. “Nobody’s had a more successful morning career than you have. What’s the secret?” Kelly asked. “Be authentic,” Kathie Lee replied, with enough regal self-regard to communicate that there really is a difference between authenticity and pre-packaged ideas about likeability.
Kelly became the Fox news anchor liberals were sporadically impressed with because she showed occasional flashes of independent thinking—about electoral math, or maternity leave—that suggested she was not your typical Foxbot. In her first show, Kelly was out simply to be appealing, the woman who knows better than anyone just how it feels to be completely over politics. But politics aren’t over Megyn Kelly just yet.