NBC’s recent firing of Megyn Kelly was no surprise to those of us who know how to “read” TV News talent. Megyn was incredibly successful on her Fox News Channel program. That show appealed to men, most of them over 60, who were looking for right-leaning pundits hoping to pick political fights with their foes. That’s the essence of Sean Hannity‘s little bully program and the format fit Megyn nicely because she’s better looking than Hannity. In that format, Megyn Kelly shined. But there’s a problem.
Megyn Kelly, in my opinion and observation, has one fatal on-air flaw when it comes to attracting female viewers. She does not come off as “warm”. When NBC executives wrote some ridiculous check to get Megyn to take over an hour on the Today show, they were unable or not skilled enough in the psychology of television to recognize the “no-warmth” factor. Their consultants were unable to recognize the “no-warmth” factor. Funny how viewers seem to recognize it in a heartbeat. That mistake – the inability to really feel whether a connection is being made between host and viewer – is what cost them millions. Ask Disney. The made the same mistake a few years earlier with Katie Couric.
Megyn didn’t need warmth to appeal to men over 60. She could be, what some might describe as “cold” on-air, because it wasn’t about her for viewers, it was about the political punches. But at 9 in the morning, when women viewers are watching by the millions, the dynamic drastically changes. Female viewers want “warmth” – an emotional connection they feel with a host that they like and admire. Oprah, Ellen, and Robin Roberts exude warmth. It’s right there on the screen. Megyn, for whatever reason, is not able to get female viewers to warm up to her. The fact that she’s stunningly more beautiful than most women, that she’s smarter and more educated than most women, and the fact that she’s richer than most women all work against Megyn. But those three factors are neither here nor there for a woman, any woman, who is unable to exude warmth on the TV screen.
That is why Megyn was kicked to the proverbial curb. The blackface hoopla was the excuse to act. But the no-connection thing was the reason.
I wanted to make those points very clearly before adding the post below that I wrote for The Huffington Post on September 18, 2017, a week before Megyn hit the air on NBC.
Originally posted 09-18-17
The news industry is twitterpated about Megyn Kelly’s heavily-hyped morning debut next week on hour three of NBC’s Today show. TV executives are anxiously using words like, her “credibility” and her “transition” from right wing Fox bombshell to morning “personality”. Megyn herself has said she wants her new show to make a “human connection”. But let me be brutally honest here. NBC’s $17-million gamble has a snowball’s chance in hell of paying off. Here’s why:
Megyn has two forces conspiring against her. First, unlike Fox prime-time where older men make up the majority of her viewers, Megyn must appeal to women in the morning. Producing personalities and shows that draw women in – is an art form unto itself – and it’s a world apart from producing for men. Megyn is going after moms and minorities. Problem is, she’s nothing like her morning viewers. She certainly doesn’t look like them (which isn’t her fault), she doesn’t live like them given the fact that she makes approximately $16,974,507 more dollars a year than the average single mom watching does, she doesn’t dress like them in her Rodeo Drive designer duds, and she’s far more educated and world-wise than most of them. Megyn must get women viewers to choose to watch her despite all of those differences. That ain’t gonna happen. I’ve produced local, cable and network morning shows most of my career and I can tell you with absolute certainty that female viewers are unforgiving, petty and outright vicious when it comes to choosing who they will watch and who they won’t on TV. I’ve seen it countless times in my own living room, in my offices, and in many a newsroom. Women, voluntarily, are very vocal about the women they can’t stand on TV. I’ve likened it to this analogy: female viewers recognize only two types of female hosts on television – those they admire and would want to be friends with, and those they suspect would steal their husband in a New York minute. Unfortunately, my analogy isn’t PC or HR-compliant – but it’s dead on. The majority of those viewers, in my opinion, would most likely put Megyn in the latter category. If they’ve seen her on Fox News during all the Trump hoopla, I’ll bet they put her in that category a long time ago. Now let me say this. I’ve never met Megyn Kelly. I have absolutely nothing against her or NBC. And in fact, I wish her well. But I have met countless numbers of women who are nothing if not brutally blunt about their feelings toward TV hosts – and if a host rubs viewers the wrong way, the channel is instantly changed.
The second and more important force conspiring against Megyn in the morning is the very reason those viewers would mistrust her. She doesn’t come across as warm – plain and simple. All $17,000,00 dollars comes down to something as simple and uncomplicated as warmth. Viewers aren’t consciously aware of this warmth – but they feel it – and conversely, they feel the lack of it. Warmth is a feeling of intimacy and affection between the personality and the viewer. It’s the absence of a façade. It’s a casualness that radiates from the TV screen. An on-air personality can’t fake it. Either they have warmth – or they don’t. For whatever reason, technical or atmospheric or psychological, Megyn’s natural warmth does not get absorbed by the studio camera, electrified by the circuitry, transmitted via cable, satellite and over-the-air, and delivered intact or even magnified to TV screens at home. It’s just not there. I’m not saying Megyn is not a warm person, certainly her husband and kids would disagree. What I am saying is that, through no fault of her own, her warmth doesn’t connect with viewers via television – and where there’s no warmth connection, there’s no human connection. When the camera doesn’t deliver warmth, the personality appears cold.
Lots of TV and film talent face this problem. Look at Anne Hathaway. There are legions of so-called “Hathahaters” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Some have said it’s because she comes off as “so affected and actressy”. Nope, in my opinion, it’s the missing warmth thing. That opinion also extends to Nicole Kidman, Sean Hannity, Piers Morgan and even Katie Couric, who I’ll get into momentarily.
The majority of TV executives simply cannot identify a talent who exudes warmth from one who doesn’t. That’s why there’s a plethora of warmth-impaired TV talent on the air. Most consultants are clueless to warmth because it’s something that can’t be quantified and displayed on a spreadsheet or in a PowerPoint presentation. The empirical flaws in the practice of focus groups don’t separate the warm from the warm-impaired.
The inability of executives at NBC to recognize the missing warmth-factor could be a costly error for the network. Yet it’s not the first time network suits have overlooked the importance of warmth. I wrote this same article several years back when Disney announced it was giving Katie Couric her own talk show. Katie, I feel, also has a warmth deficiency. I stated at the time her show wouldn’t see a second season for that very reason. It did, in fact, go on to a second season, but only because she had a locked-in, two-season deal. When that expired, so did her presence in daytime.
Producers made the exact opposite mistake when they created Anderson Cooper’s talk show. They took a warm host – a guy who’s a campfire of warmth – and had him covering the cold hard facts of cold hard news stories – in daytime. They scrapped that failing format in his sophomore season. Instead of letting Anderson carry the show himself, producers brought in loud and annoying and warmth-lacking co-hosts who diluted his warm presence – and the show was predictably canceled. At that time, I suspect Anderson underestimated the power of his own presence and apparently did as he was told – to the detriment of his show. I produced Anderson for a few weeks when he filled-in on ABC’s World News Now. My show was the first time he sat in a network news anchor chair – and he was nervous. I’m sincere about his warmth, but he took it to new extremes by sweating through his clothes during the show. He had to change his shirt during nearly every commercial break. He wasn’t just warm. He was burning up!
Warmth is worth billions. Just ask Oprah. Robin Roberts is a cashmere blanket. I produced Robin back in the late ‘90’s on GMA’s weekend shows and viewers could feel her embrace via the impossibly tight close-ups I insisted she be shot on. That warmth is diffused now on the current incarnation of GMA simply because the producers don’t know how to produce her and shoot her, and there are far too many gadflies on set (I’m not referring to you, George). And then there’s Matt Lauer. Early on, his excess warmth overshadowed Katie’s lack of it, which is why Today was successful in the early ‘90’s. But it wasn’t enough for many viewers who began turning to the local morning shows like mine. Katie actually helped my show beat the big three networks every morning!
Which begs the question: Can a talent like Megyn Kelly be produced to be warm? I’ve attempted it twice, both times without the support of management – and without the freedom to take risks with the talent (and the franchise) and just as importantly, without the talent being 100-percent on board. Both were miserable failures. That said, NBC claims to be very supportive of Megyn and her show. I hope they realize it’s not extravagant, overbearing sets and the hottest celebrity guests and exotic, live remote locations that will attract viewers. Your money bought you Megyn, but it won’t buy you a rating. That’s on Megyn’s shoulders now – squarely. The producers will need to take some serious risks with the Today franchise – and Megyn herself will have to leap far out of her comfort zone if she has that snowballs chance in hell of not coming across as cold.
I’m on pins and needles. My warmest wishes to all of them.