Megyn Kelly's interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was the talk of the TV industry last week, but based on the Nielsen ratings, viewers did not care.
"Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly" averaged 3.53 million viewers in its Sunday 7 p.m. time slot, the lowest figure yet since the program premiered on NBC on June 4.
Kelly's program was swamped by a rerun of "60 Minutes" on CBS, which averaged 5.3 million viewers in the hour. In the 25-to-54 age group that advertisers seek on the shows, NBC edged out CBS, with 888,000 viewers to CBS' 864,000.
ABC's "America's Funniest Home Videos" had 3.7 million viewers, and in the 25-to-54 demographic finished ahead of both news programs.
NBC News took considerable heat for the Jones interview, which Kelly had vigorously pursued.
Jones, a radio host and operator of the far-right news website Infowars, has repeatedly said the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — which killed 26 people, including 20 children — was a hoax aimed at promoting tougher gun control laws.
Families of the Sandy Hook victims, some of whom say they have been harassed by Jones' followers, pleaded with the network not to give Jones a platform. A number of advertisers stayed away from the program, and NBC's Connecticut TV station chose not to run it.
Ultimately, the public didn't seem all that interested in what Jones had to say. Jones' followers may have ignored the program because they thought it would be a negative portrayal, which it was.
NBC News added an interview of a father of a Sandy Hook victim and a commentary from its most respected anchor, Tom Brokaw, to debunk Jones' claims about the shooting. Brokaw said the parents of the Newtown victims "should not have to hear the cruel claim that it's a lie."
Jones repeated his conspiracy theory in the interview. Kelly said he never disavowed his previous statements in their conversations and noted there was no evidence to back his claims.
Brokaw's appearance was clearly an attempt to assuage the Sandy Hook families who were outraged and even threatened legal action against NBC News.
Kelly interviewed Newtown parent Neil Heslin, who described the devastating loss of his son.
“I think he’s blessed to have his children to spend the day with, to speak to,” Heslin said, referring to Jones. “I don’t have that.”
Kelly did have several heated exchanges with Jones, who was sweating profusely during their sit-down. She opened by pressing him on why he called the victims of the terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, “liberal trendies” when many were pre-teen girls.
The rigor of the piece will likely take some of the sting out of critiques of Kelly, some of which suggested that her transition from Fox News to NBC News was off to a rocky start.
Jones tried to rationalize his statements in the interview but for the most part seemed frustrated by Kelly’s queries.
In a live-streamed video aired on his YouTube channel, Jones reacted angrily to the final taped “Sunday Night” piece as it aired. He lambasted Kelly and the mainstream media.
“This is a giant, evil misrepresentation,” he said. “They continue to misrepresent what I’ve said and what I’ve done.”
Still, he declared victory — popping a bottle of champagne and angrily vowing to keep up the fight against “globalism” and what he described as lies covered up by the mainstream media.Kelly received generally positive reviews from TV news colleagues and from some critics for the segment on Jones. Nonetheless, based on the tepid ratings, NBC News executives may be asking themselves if it was worth the trouble.
"Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly" has now declined in viewership two weeks in a row. It opened with 6.2 million viewers on June 4 with a heavily promoted one-on-one interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It had 3.6 million viewers its second week.
Kelly's program is slated to run through the summer and then make way for NBC's NFL games. She is to host her own daily daytime program starting this fall.