15 Facts About Megyn Kelly’s Rise to TV Stardom
Megyn Kelly answers the question of whether there is life in journalism for broadcasters who were once enmeshed in the politically charged world of Fox News.
After showing streaks of political independence during the network's coverage of the 2016 presidential election, Kelly jumped ship and found a new network home on NBC News. There, Kelly makes between $15 million and $20 million per year hosting a daytime talk show and interview specials for the network. For the record, Kelly says she is a political independent and told Variety in 2015 that in the past she has cast votes for both Republican and Democratic candidates.
The former lawyer's popularity – and notoriety – may have peaked earlier this decade. In 2014 she was named to Time's list of the 100 most influential people. And nothing can compare to the exposure she got in 2016, when she sparred with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in a series of exchanges that were aired on Fox.
But she remains relevant.
In late 2016 she was named an honoree for Variety's Power of Women for her work to combat child abuse. She is also reportedly on the shortlist of candidates to become the permanent replacement for Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show.
Kelly’s Early Life
Kelly was born in Champaign, Illinois and moved to Delmar, New York, a suburb of Albany, when she was nine. The move came when her father, Edward, took a position as a professor at the State University of New York. Kelly's mother, Linda, was a homemaker. Her father died of a heart attack when she was 15.
Kelly was raised Catholic and graduated from Bethlehem Central High School before enrolling in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She graduated in 1992 with a degree in political science, then went on to get her law degree from Albany Law School in 1995.
Launching Her Law Career
Kelly started her law career as an associate at Chicago-based Bickel & Brewer LLP. She later joined Jones Day, where she worked for nine years. One of her biggest clients at Jones Day was the credit monitoring bureau Experian.
Balancing Marriage and Family
Kelly married Daniel Kendall, an anesthesiologist, in 2001. The couple divorced in 2006. In 2009, she married Douglas Brunt, president and CEO of the cybersecurity firm Authentium. Brunt has since left that position and works full-time as a novelist.
Kelly and Brunt have three children: a son, Yates, who was born in 2009; a daughter, Yardley, in 2011; and a son, Thatcher, in 2013.
Shifting to Broadcast Journalism
In 2003, the Washington, D.C. ABC affiliate WJLA-TV hired Kelly as a general assignment reporter.
She quickly put her legal background to work, covering the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, as well as the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
In 2004, she covered the presidential election for the station.
CNN's Big Regret
Kelly was hired by Fox News in 2004. CNN President Jonathan Klein would later regret not hiring her, saying she was "the one talent you'd want to have from somewhere else."
Kelly's first assignments at Fox were contributing legal segments for "Special Report with Brit Hume" and hosting "Kelly's Court" on the network's weekend schedule.
She appeared regularly on "The O'Reilly Factor" and filled in for Greta Van Susteren on "On the Record." She also drew occasional fill-in assignments as a weekend anchor.
Building “America Live”
On February 1, 2010, Kelly began hosting "America Live."
The two-hour afternoon show replaced "The Live Desk." Viewership in the time slot increase 20 percent to nearly 1.3 million during the show's first year, including a 4 percent gain in the 25-54 age demographic.
Covering the 2012 Presidential Election
Kelly got attention during the network's coverage of the 2012 Presidential Election.
When Fox projected victory for Barack Obama, panelist Karl Rove disputed the projection. On camera, Kelly pointedly asked Rove and other panelists on the Fox Decision Desk, "Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better? Or is this real?"
Launching “The Kelly File”
"The Kelly File" premiered in prime time on October 7, 2013 after Kelly returned from maternity leave. The show was an instant hit, and would often top "The O'Reilly Factor" as Fox's top-rated show in the coming years.
The show was quick to draw controversy. In December 2013, Kelly came under fire for comments responding to a Slate commentary. "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white, but this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa," she said. "But Santa is what he is, and just so you know, we're just debating this because someone wrote about it."
She also asserted Jesus was white in the segment.
Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow and others lined up to satirize her comments. Two days later Kelly said on air her comments were meant to be tongue-in-cheek and that the debate over Jesus's ethnicity was "far from settled."
When Josh Duggar, one of the 19 children featured in the reality show "19 Kids and Counting," was accused of molesting five girls, Kelly scored the July 2015 interview with his parents. That episode of "The Kelly File" drew 3.09 million viewers, above its average of 2.11 viewers.
Other big ratings numbers for the show that year included 3.2 million viewers for coverage the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disappearance and 7.3 million for the Ferguson riots coverage.
A Trump Bump
Kelly's profile again rose in August 2015 when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned her professionalism. Kelly responded by refusing to "apologize for doing good journalism." Trump refused to participate in the January 28, 2016 GOP debate in Des Moines, Iowa that Kelly moderated.
Kelly got an unlikely boost from pundit Bill Maher for her performance in the debate, with Maher suggesting Kelly was a better candidate than any of the Republican hopefuls that participated. Kelly later said in an interview that she was disappointed in Bill O'Reilly for not being more supportive and in CNN, which aired a Trump rally instead of the debate Kelly moderated.
Kelly met with Trump in April 2016 "to clear the air," but the truce was short-lived. In June she criticized Trump for attacking federal judge Gonzalo P. Curiel's credibility. And in October, with the election approaching, she argued with Newt Gingrich on "The Kelly File" about Trump's lewd comments in a 2005 audio recording on a bus.
Beginning of the End at Fox News
Critic Gabriel Sherman wrote that a May 2016 prime-time interview special hosted by Kelly amounted to "a public interview for her next job." Kelly was in the final year of her contract and the show displayed her desire to create a program where she could “interview celebrities from the worlds of politics, entertainment, and other areas of human interest."
The special drew 4.8 million viewers but still came in third place for its time slot.
When Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment in July 2016, Kelly confirmed that she had been one of his targets. Ailes resigned two days later, but his lawyer publicly denied the charges by Kelly and other women.
During the Republican National Convention that summer, Kelly was criticized for wearing a black dress with spaghetti straps. Huffington Post writer Jenavieve Hatch jumped to Kelly's defense, writing, "If you're a woman on national television reporting on a political event from hot, humid Cleveland, wearing a weather-appropriate outfit makes you the target of an endless stream of sexist commentary."
Kelly the Author
Kelly signed a book deal with HarperCollins for more than $10 million in February 2016. "Settle For More," an autobiography, was released in November 2016. In the book she wrote about her feud with Trump, as well as the unwanted sexual advances by Ailes. A pro-Trump Reddit forum mobilized Trump supporters to leave negative online reviews for the book.
Professional critics offered mixed reviews for the book. While Tina Jordan of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "The story of her years as an attorney and her subsequent rise in TV journalism is surprisingly moving, transforming 'Settle for More' into a Lean In-ish primer for young women about the importance of hard work, self-esteem, and—most of all—perseverance," Los Angeles Times book critic Lorraine Ali wrote, "Kelly comes across in the book as casual and warm one minute, formal and stiff the next. It’s a duality that reflects her on-screen personality."
Jumping to NBC
Rumors started circulating following the 2016 presidential election that Kelly was considering offers from other networks.
In January 2017, The New York Times broke the story that Kelly would move to NBC, where she would anchor and host her own daytime program and in-depth Sunday night news show. She was also slated to be part of teams covering major news and political events for NBC.
While the last episode of "The Kelly File" aired in January, a non-compete clause prevented her from starting at NBC until June. A pair of interviews with Russian President Vladimir Putin were the key pieces in the premiere episode of "NBC's Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly" on June 4, 2017.
"Megyn Kelly Today," her daytime talk show, premiered in September.
Changing Roles at NBC
Kelly is believed to earn between $15 million and $20 million annually from NBC, but her role has diminished somewhat since she started on the network.
"NBC's Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly" went on hiatus after an eight-episode run in the summer of 2017, presumably to make way for NBC's NFL and 2018 Winter Olympics coverage. NBC announced that the show would return in the summer of 2018, but only on a limited basis.