Megyn Kelly gets her rematch with Donald Trump in a prime-time showdown
Here’s a spoiler about Megyn Kelly’s upcoming interview with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
She does not make him cry.
Viewers might expect some tears to flow because cable news star Kelly’s first prime-time special, “Megyn Kelly Presents,” on Fox’s broadcast network (Tuesday, 8 p.m.) is produced by Bill Geddie. For years, Geddie oversaw TV news legend Barbara Walters’ high-rated in-depth interviews with celebrities who often reached for the Kleenex by the end of the conversation.
“I’m glad I didn’t cry,” Kelly said with a laugh during a recent conversation at her office at Fox News headquarters in Manhattan.
But Kelly’s role in Trump’s historic rise to become the Republicans’ choice for the 2016 White House race gives their one-on-one meeting plenty of built-in tension.
At the first Republican primary debate that aired Aug. 6 on the Fox News Channel, Kelly confronted Trump over past ugly public statements he’s made about women. While the real estate mogul kept his cool during the event that was watched by 24 million people, he scorched Kelly with insults afterward on social media and, in a CNN interview, suggested that her menstrual cycle was the reason for her “mean” questions.
Trump’s remarks would have likely put an end to a conventional political candidate. But the former reality TV star powered through the primary season like a “Survivor” contestant with immunity from the tribal council.
On her special, Kelly is seen getting her first chance to ask the candidate about his behavior, which went on for months. The focus is not on her, she said, but on whether he has the temperament appropriate for someone who occupies the Oval Office.
“He answered every question,” she said. “There were some tense moments. There were some uncomfortable moments.”
But Kelly is also well aware that her timing was right for the interview, which she personally requested from Trump in mid-April. While Trump has the nomination sewn up, his poll numbers have been weak among women voters. Agreeing to an opportunity to publicly display respect toward Kelly, no matter how tough she is on him, can’t hurt with that constituency.
“You can say whatever you want about Trump, but he’s not dumb,” she said. “He realized he had a lot riding on this and something to gain.”
You can say whatever you want about Trump, but he’s not dumb. He realized he had a lot riding on this and something to gain.
— Megyn Kelly
Kelly, a 45-year-old upstate New York native, has already won accolades and admiration for remaining cool and never responding to Trump’s nasty fire. She’s done glamorous magazine shoots and was interviewed by Charlie Rose on the august weekend news program “CBS Sunday Morning.”
But her journey to becoming the hottest star on cable news has been a shock to her system. A former trial attorney who went into broadcast journalism 13 years ago partly because she wanted more fun in her work life, she admits to being taken aback at the harsh tone of the presidential campaign season. She never expected to become a part of the Trump saga that cable news programs like hers cover each night.
“I don’t really like acrimony,” she said. “Some people like it. I think Trump likes it. I know people see me as this tough questioner. People have said I am fearless. I am a much softer person than that. Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong woman. I am much more about my children and my husband, the love in my life and my friendships and my recognition that we’re only here for a short time. Every moment in that vitriolic sewer is bad for the soul.”
The experience has caused Kelly to reflect about the future of her career. Her contract with Fox News is up in July 2017, and she has said in recent interviews that she’s undecided about re-signing. In the last year she has become a client of Creative Artists Agency, which is not where TV news talent typically goes to stay put.
But Kelly points out that she appreciates the editorial control — as well as the challenges — that she has on her nightly platform at Fox News Channel, where she averages 2.5 million viewers a night. She has the second-largest audience in cable news, behind her lead-in “The O’Reilly Factor.”
“What am I going to do?” she said when asked about her plans. “I went on ‘Live with Kelly and Michael’ the other day and those two have great jobs. They go on TV for an hour a day, they have fun conversations, they make a bunch of money. They are on from 9 to 10 and then they can go work out and be with their children. I’m sure it’s harder than that, but in theory that sounds wonderful. Would I actually be happy doing it? No, I would not. I think to some extent it’s baked in me to be hard-charging. I get to do that [at Fox News Channel] in a way that nine times out of 10, I adore. It just so happens I’m coming off of a tough year. I am always doing a gut check to make sure I’m happy and I’m getting what I need out of life. It doesn’t boil down to money for me. It boils down to ‘am I soaring? Is my spirit soaring?’”
Kelly and Fox News executives are playing down the significance of the prime-time special and whether it can lead to larger role on the broadcast network. Nevertheless, Kelly has been on a talk-show blitz to promote the event and will even have a walk-on when Fox presents its new 2016-17 prime-time schedule to advertisers at New York’s Beacon Theater on Monday.
Right now, Kelly sees the special, which also features interviews with O.J. Simpson defense attorney Robert Shapiro, actor Michael Douglas and “Orange Is the New Black” co-star Laverne Cox, as a way to try her hand at deeper conversations than the four-minute interviews that are packed into “The Kelly File.”
“If it works out and they want more that would be fun,” she said. “If the special is one and done I can live with that too. It’s not like I’m getting extra money.”
Not yet anyway.
Such celebrity interview specials are rare on the broadcast networks these days since Walters has retired and chattering stars and politicians are widely available across cable TV and the Internet.
But Geddie believes that Kelly possesses a personality that is distinctive enough to make viewers seek out a special and watch with the expectation that they will learn something they didn’t already know.
“Megyn’s funny and quick and gives you a sense that she’s having the time of her life,” Geddie said. “She reminds me of those movies in the ‘30s with Jean Arthur or Rosalind Russell — the career women in the newsroom who’d say ‘get off your keisters boys, there’s a story at city hall.’ She’s the one the boys all fall in love with and she plays them for fools. That’s how I’d cast her. She’s a modern version of that.”
There is another interview that Kelly would love to have —– Trump’s likely Democratic opponent for the White House, Hillary Clinton. Kelly said she has “many” requests in to talk to the candidate who has only done one appearance on Fox News during the campaign so far.
“She called me a superb journalist,” Kelly said. “I’d like her to come over here and let me practice some of that superb journalism on her.”
‘Megyn Kelly Presents’
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for coarse language and violence)
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