It is impossible to tell how anyone will do in this job from a first episode. (Guarded, even disappointed, reactions greeted the bows of Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah.) Kelly's debut had an intensely cheery, manic first-date energy. That she has spent a long time on television, speaking to cameras and conducting interviews, can only serve her so well, as she was not previously required to look like she was having fun doing it. If anything, she was required to look like fun was the furthest thing from her mind.
Much of the episode constituted a sort of ritual induction of the new host into the "Today" family, family being the paradigm of the morning show. In a filmed piece ("New Kid on the Rock," as in 30 Rock, NBC's New York headquarters), she rode to work on a tandem bicycle with Al Roker, flipped an omelet with Matt Lauer and had her makeup done with Kathie Lee Gifford, who advised her to be "authentic." But this is show business, so who can ever tell?
Kelly gave a biographical sketch that led from her upstate New York childhood ("We did not have a ton of money but we had a ton of love") to a John Denver song her late father used to sing — "Today," coincidentally enough, "about not wasting a moment, making each day count" — to her years as a lawyer and then a Fox News personality ("which was good, until it wasn't"). It brought her, finally, to the creation of "Megyn Kelly Today" and the very moment we were all sharing, live or via tape delay.
"You'll know who I am by the song that I sing," said Kelly, quoting Denver and seemingly speaking for herself. The hour, which commenced with the host's statement that she was "kind of done with politics for now — you know why," was studiously upbeat and essentially non-controversial.
The cast of "Will & Grace" was well behaved.
The piece on Chicago's Sister Donna, less concerned with figures than with feeling good, hit a lot of points on the Kelly wish list, "to have a laugh with us, a smile, sometimes a tear, and maybe a little hope to start your day." A filmed portion was followed by the onstage presentation to Sister Donna of one of those made-for-television giant checks "from the folks at Coldwell Banker residential brokerage" and a similarly enormous gift card from "the folks at Ace Hardware." It was one of several awkwardly executed "surprises" throughout the hour.
Hair needs to be let down, but Kelly's first hour gave no indication that this is a job she can't learn. It always takes time, and time alone will tell. As to the separate question of whether she will draw viewers and so satisfy her bosses, not even the bosses know.
Tomorrow on "Megyn Kelly Today": The cast of another NBC series, "This Is Us," and Kelly's mother, who was in Monday's audience. "Be afraid," said the host. "Be very afraid."
'Megyn Kelly Today'
When: 9 a.m. Mon. - Fri.
Rating: TV-G (suitable for all ages)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd