Megyn Kelly and NBC News have finally found something they can agree on after months of standoff: They are finally and officially done with one another.
“The parties have resolved their differences, and Megyn Kelly is no longer an employee of NBC,” read a statement from NBC released late Friday.
Kelly will receive the remainder of her three-year contract, valued at $69 million, which was only halfway complete and was to end in spring 2020. But, as far as benign corporate separation announcements go, it doesn’t get any more vicious than a cursory single sentence goodbye.
It does not mention the fanfare that greeted Kelly when NBC News Chairman Andy Lack wooed her from Fox News in 2017. It also makes no mention of how the relationship between the news star and network deteriorated. There were Kelly’s racially insensitive comments around Halloween questioning why blackface costumes are deemed racist; her morning show’s disappointing ratings; her large salary; and her contention that NBC execs balked at her aggressive coverage of the network’s sexual harassment scandals.
All of those issues played into the end of Kelly’s time with NBC and made for a dramatic closing to one of the most closely watched relationships in television news.
The two sides differed on how Kelly’s tenure should be described in the release announcing her departure, with her representatives arguing for a more effusive recognition of her contributions to NBC News.
However, NBC News executives resisted praising Kelly without also explicitly mentioning her controversial blackface comments, according to three people familiar with the negotiations.
Kelly has also long suspected colleagues at NBC of leaking information about her, including her reported $23 million annual salary, which created significant envy inside NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters. It’s not clear whether Kelly is bound by an agreement that prevents her from talking freely about her time at NBC, but “she is pleased with the final resolution,” according to a source close to her.
There is no noncompete language in the agreement, but neither side expects Kelly to immediately leap into another television opportunity. A standard provision of separation agreements would stipulate that if Kelly finds another job before her NBC contract is fully paid out, then NBC can subtract her new salary from what it owes her.
Kelly and her husband cheerfully greeted paparazzi Thursday night on the streets of Manhattan. According to video published by TMZ, Kelly said she would “definitely” be back on TV in 2019.
The statement comes 2½ months after NBC canceled her morning show, “Megyn Kelly Today,” in late October. Much of the rancor between the two sides blew up in the first weeks following the cancellation, though it took many weeks more to finalize the agreement.
One participant in the negotiations likened it to a divorce proceeding that drags on long after the couple has been separated. “You hate each other and want to kill each other, but once you’re separated, the urgency dies down,” this person said.
Immediately after the controversial comments, Kelly apologized to her colleagues, and again to viewers the following day on air. But the damage was done.
Though the blackface comments were the impetus for her show’s cancellation, the seeds of its demise were planted months earlier. In July, she and Lack had a conversation about the problems with the show and its disappointing ratings. By August, Kelly had begun to prepare to extricate herself from her failing program.
She consulted with new advisers hoping to resolve her problems with NBC, according to two people familiar with her discussions. Soon after, Kelly spoke out forcefully on her show about the need for an external investigation into NBC News’s decision not to air a report by Ronan Farrow and his producer, Rich McHugh, that looked into sexual assault allegations leveled against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. She had previously featured women who alleged former “Today” show host Matt Lauer harassed them on her show. Kelly also spoke about widespread support inside NBC News for Tom Brokaw, who was accused of sexual harassment, by saying: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
In its last week on air, “Megyn Kelly Today” had 675,000 viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, according to Nielsen. A few weeks after she got the boot, in November, the third hour of “Today” had 741,000 viewers between 25 and 54, a jump of about 10 percent. Earlier this week, NBC announced the new hosts of the 9 a.m. hour of “Today”: veteran anchor Al Roker, meteorologist Dylan Dreyer and journalists Craig Melvin and Sheinelle Jones.
Kelly, once a star at Fox News, had long nurtured ambitions of moving out of the conservative news bubble and into the top tier of mainstream broadcast personalities, with aspirations of becoming a mix of Oprah Winfrey and Charlie Rose.
She once said she wanted to “help people,” just as Oprah had. Her memoir’s title suggested she wanted to “settle for more,” a concept she credited self-help guru Dr. Phil with inspiring. She debuted her softer-edged NBC morning show “Megyn Kelly Today” by saying she was “kind of done with politics for now.”
Kelly wrote in her book about her own sexual harassment at the hands of Fox News co-founder Roger Ailes, which he denied until his death in May 2017.
Where she will land is unclear. She is expected to appear on Dr. Phil’s podcast in several weeks, a person close to her said.
Her former boss, Lachlan Murdoch, is due to take over as chief executive of Fox News’s parent company and recently shot down speculation that Kelly would return to Fox News.
Murdoch said he is a fan of Kelly’s and hoped she would have a comeback, but added that he was “very happy with our current lineup on Fox, and we won’t be making any changes there.”