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NBC's hiring of Megyn Kelly of Fox News falls rather short of the strategic genius of George S. Patton, Erwin Rommel or Napoleon Bonaparte. It's a no-brainer.
She's very good, young (46) and on a roll with a hot book, great ratings and a TV market desperate for brand names amid industry and cultural fragmentation. Hire her and you probably hurt a competitor, too, at least in the short-term.
Comcast, NBC's parent, has money to burn (check your cable bill). But take at face value that this wasn't about money (she was reportedly offered $25 million to stay at Fox) and it was more about a bigger stage and a saner lifestyle for a working mom with three young kids. How much dough does one need, even in Manhattan, where hourly parking for over two hours at some hellhole of a downtown garage can be $75?
Comcast is also desperate for at least slightly younger viewers, explaining two separate investments of $200 million in BuzzFeed. Perhaps she can help a smidgen as she takes on a multiplicity of roles, including hosting a daytime show of some sort, a Sunday evening news magazine and assorted other duties at a network with a lot bigger audience than any of the cable news networks slobbered over by journalists whose TVs are tuned to cable news 24/7. For sure, many of the youth the old networks chase aren't watching TV beyond downloading a hit Netflix show.
None of the Kelly prospects are surefire winners, rather obviously, and star power isn't always transferable. (Politico) Daytime television is very competitive, doesn't generate the dollars of primetime and raises bottom-line challenges with a network's affiliate stations (which get more "inventory," namely ads whose revenue comes their way, on syndicated shows, like an "Ellen," than on a network newscast or other network fare).
What kind of show do you do on daytime? Do you just take over the weak final hour of "Today?" Do you create a syndicated show, perhaps thinking that Kelly can morph into a White Oprah? Lots of talented journalist-celebrity hosts have failed, most recently Anderson Cooper. And on Sundays, does the news magazine she alluded to last night while announcing her plans to her audience ("with love" to them) unavoidably try to ape, or even possibly compete with, the unceasing "60 Minutes" juggernaut on CBS?
"It's not quite clear what they have in mind for Kelly in daytime, but there's nothing in recent history to support efforts to use daytime broadcast air to do anything that's even somewhat serious," says Merrill Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair, New Jersey State University, and founding editor in chief of MSNBC.com.
"The only exception to this is Oprah, and there's only one Oprah," he says. "(Katie) Couric and others have failed. Second, this means they think there are ratings cracks in terms of '60 Minutes,' which they'll be going directly up against in the fall unless they choose to push Sunday Night Football to a much later start. Moving NBC's highly lucrative Sunday Night Football package to a later start time seems highly unlikely."
And, yet, there are overarching realities, if you're NBC, Brown notes. "Names, 'brands' still do matter, the TV world believes. First of all, it's hard to create them from scratch. Second, there are few of them with any weight."
A thousand rumors and theories were launched by the hiring and, if the past is prologue, NBC will take some time and figure out details of its general battle plan, say executives elsewhere familiar with the modus operandi of NBC boss Andrew Lack.
As it does, executives there and at MSNBC will be forced into the role of amateur shrinks and life coaches as they deal with wounded egos of self-obsessed seven-and eight-figure show hosts and their agents. There will be agent-planted items about purported discussions with Fox to replace Kelly. Meanwhile, some wounded and craven TV souls will get even richer, as cash serves as boss-approved solace and hush money.
But Kelly herself also enters a far bigger shark tank, filled with cautionary tales of how one big error, a slip of the tongue, narcissism run amok, can derail the most ascendant of careers. And wouldn't it be ironic if somewhere along the line she's paired with Brian Williams, a man savvier and more experienced, the onetime king of the same hill, now humbled but admirably persistent in clawing his way back.
The possibilities are huge, including if NBC can finally get its act together and take on "60 Minutes." The TV road is littered with failed tries throughout the decades. Some non-NBC executives argue to me it's a great opportunity, others that it's a dead-end.
One thing is sure: The air is going to be far thinner in Kelly's new environs. After loyal service to the Murdoch Machine, she'd best display the "human connection" she extolled to her viewers last night as her driving raison d'etre during her ardent end-of-show announcement of the new gig.
And she'd best proceed with a dose of Rommel-like military caution. It's a way bigger field of battle.
TV's short-term memory
"I'm old enough to remember 2008," said Julie Roginsky, a "Democratic analyst" on Megyn Kelly's show last night during a generally solid debate on Trump's relationship to big business. It's the sort of deep, wizened historical overview that's always in demand. Imagine if she were old enough to also remember 2004.
Sullivan on Scarborough
Referring to a lengthy and very defensive Joe Scarborough screed in her own paper, Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post writes, "Scarborough is almost as thin-skinned as Trump himself." Yes, it appears so.
And while his piece was headlined “The media’s hypocrisy and hyperventilating in the age of Trump,” it indeed was "in part a convoluted defense of his interactions with the man (Trump), complete with language like this: 'This past week, I met twice with President-elect Donald Trump attempting to secure an interview for inauguration week.'" (The Washington Post)
Well, she might have wondered if any editor was on-duty New Year's weekend. Scarborough's self-reverential ways are in overdrive these days, as he transitions to de facto White House aide operating out of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. He could use an editor.
An exception that may prove a rule
A new piece from STAT isn't foremost about Obamacare, but it does a fine job of chronicling the sort of rural hospital that is endangered these days. At least 80 have closed since 2010, but Childress Regional in Childress, Texas has just 39 beds and stands out as "a case study in success."
"It’s solvent. It’s expanding its services. And in an era when medical care seems increasingly fragmented — with high-tech diagnostics and high-priced specialists called in for every ailment — it’s a reminder that the old-fashioned way can work, too."
Her Majesty thanks you all
This New Year brought awards to various media types by Queen Elizabeth. Some become knights. Some become dames. Some become CBEs, others OBEs (OBJs are reserved for Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants, I guess). It's why we have monarchies, "Masterpiece Theater" and Laura Linney.
Those honored this time include Anna Wintour, Condé Nast artistic director; Peter Brookes, London Times cartoonist; Angela Rippon, a British TV anchor; and Don McCullin, a photojournalist. (BBC)
I'm most impressed,though, by the honor to Ray Davies, a founder of The Kinks back in 1963. Their handiwork included "A Well Respected Man," whose lyrics remain imprinted on my brain:
"And he's oh, so good
And he's oh, so fine
And he's oh, so healthy
In his body and his mind
He's a well-respected man about town
Doing the best thing so conservatively"
Queenie, good decision.
The limits of gratitude
"George Lucas can’t give his $1.5 billion museum away." It's a nice job by Bloomberg BusinessWeek on a man who's "long been vexed by popularity: It’s the source of his riches, but also the thing that, he says, prompts elites to dismiss his work." (Bloomberg)
Coming to a town near you
Mark Zuckerberg, "who takes on a personal challenge for himself each January that he shares with the public, said Tuesday that his goal for 2017 was to 'have visited and met people in every state in the U.S. by the end of the year.'" (Recode)
When done, perhaps he can assist the press in political polling that's a bit more accurate than the past year.
Glory days for reality TV?
"Reality television, for lazy media critics and beltway pundits alike, is shorthand pejorative for tawdry and cheap." (The Verge)
"But in 2016, reality television and scripted television aren’t separated by as wide a gulf as casual spectators and smug critics might believe. Like scripted TV, a lot of reality TV is terrible, and like scripted TV, some reality TV is good, and a few shows are downright brilliant."
"Fox & Friends" co-hosts opened with vacation photos of themselves and family before re-airing clips of a Sean Hannity interview with WikiLeaks' Julian Assange, who is still stuck in a London embassy and argued that a teenager could have hacked into Clinton campaign chief John Podesta's email. He said the source was not the Russian government but hedged on whether it might be Russian, nonetheless. (Salon)
CNN went right to nascent Trump relations with Russia. "New Day" co-host Chris Cuomo, presumably playing devil's advocate, wondered if Trump's reluctance to deride Vladimir Putin is actually fact-based and derived from some heretofore unidentified U.S. intelligence source. There was then much serious in-the-weeds discussion of Obamacare's fate.
"Morning Joe" for a second day talked ethics, or at least House Republicans' about-face on emasculating a key committee (a fine account is here in The Washington Post). It then turned to the ultimately important Trump relationship with Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York, portraying them each as "outer-borough" (non-Manhattan) "scrappers" (who also attended Wharton and Harvard, respectively, somebody might have mentioned).
An improbable tabloid hero and villain
Gary Lineker is a famous former English soccer star who's enjoyed a recent meteoric rise as a sportscaster. But he's done so with a certain Trump-like flair:
"His repositioning came in a classically Trumpian way — via Twitter. In a series of provocative tweets to his 5.4m followers he first condemned Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in the June referendum. Then he rounded on right-wing newspapers and politicians for their stance towards refugees. Overnight he went from national treasure to 'leftie luvvie' who should be sacked." (Financial Times)
A reporter's bottom line for Aleppo
It doesn't get more bleak than Jon Lee Anderson's take:
"Few conflicts in the modern era have been as bleakly apocalyptic or as globally destabilizing as Syria’s, and its consequences will be felt widely for decades to come. Those who have survived its horrors firsthand will have to bear the trauma of personal losses that include the deaths of loved ones and physical injuries; the pain and humiliation of torture, including sex slavery and gang rape; the loss of homes and property; the effects of prolonged shock and fear caused by incessant aerial bombardment; starvation; imprisonment; flight and exile; and so on." (The New Yorker)
News the big players somehow missed
"Sitting down with top officials from the CIA, FBI, and Defense Intelligence Agency in a Trump Tower conference room, President-elect Donald Trump reportedly gave U.S. intelligence agencies their daily briefing Tuesday morning." (The Onion)
A top aide says "the president-elect was planning to give briefings to intelligence officials every morning during his presidency in order to keep them closely apprised of the greatest areas of concern and latest threats to the nation."
Hey, the past isn't prologue with this guy, so why not?