October 8, 2013

Kelly, at the start of her prime-time debut Monday night. (Fox News screengrab)

In her prime-time debut last night at 9 on Fox News, host Megyn Kelly sent a message of continuity. Her “new” program felt precisely like her old one: She reprised her excellent “Kelly’s Court” segment, in which the former litigator tilts at legal matters; she interviewed a newsmaker (in this case, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who was allowed to filibuster on set); she flashed the personality that made her former dayside program, “America Live,” a top-ranked cable-news staple.

And she kept that terrible see-through footrest as well. Not to mention her executive producer.

Opinions on Kelly and her accession to prime time are a bit scattered. She’s the “future” of Fox News, writes Lloyd Grove of the Daily Beast. She’s “more dangerous than Bill O’Reilly,” writes Simon Maloy of Media Matters for America. The patina of reasonableness and opinion-free news, says Maloy, obscures her penchant for right-wing programming.

Come to think of it — perhaps that’s why she’s the future of Fox News.

The continuity in Kelly’s program drives at a central value — stability — of Fox News. Just as Kelly is now invading a prime time lineup that hadn’t changed since 2002, she’s sticking with the formula that padded her success in midday television. Whether the nighttime Fox News crowd — reared on a lot of shouting, a lot of opinionating and hosts calling guests “cowards” with some degree of regularity — will cotton to Kelly’s script is an open question. An open question that we’ll answer by predicting that it’ll be a smashing success, not only because Kelly indeed broadcasts well, but also because Fox News is the plug-in network, a cultural destination for its viewers wherein the actual product on-screen at any moment is less important than the fact that it’s Fox News.

In the petty judgment of the Erik Wemple Blog, Kelly’s ascension is a good thing, if only because it pushes “Hannity,” the gruff and predictable and distortion-prone vehicle of media star Sean Hannity, further into the night. Formerly in Kelly’s choice time slot, he now starts at 10 p.m. Since he’s still safely in prime time and sure to dominate the ratings, that’s hardly banishment. But it is progress.

And one more thing: Given the see-through desk and footrest, it bears asking whether pants are allowed on The Kelly File.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.