“Megyn Kelly Today” is meant to be the final, dazzling piece of Kelly’s multimillion-dollar transmogrification from steely Fox News host to a mushy, hugs-for-everybody, midmorning TV host. It premiered Monday on NBC in the 9 a.m. hour of the “Today” show, proving only that the experiment is far from successful.
The debut was like watching a network try to assemble its own Bride of Frankenstein, using parts of Ellen DeGeneres, Kelly Ripa and whatever else it can find. The resultant lovely creature, dressed in a mauve, pussy-bow blouse and skintight pants, moved stiffly and waved her arms around in broad gestures in a bizarre attempt to generate excitement from an audience that was already standing and cheering as duly instructed. She interviewed people nervously and so awkwardly that they were cowed into giving monosyllabic answers. She also never missed an opportunity to talk about herself.
Most of the episode devolved into an intentionally meta hall of mirrors, inviting the audience to admire Kelly as much as Kelly admires Kelly — a morning TV show about the birth of a morning TV show. There was lots of talk about what “Megyn Kelly Today” will be, mostly by way of what it won’t be. (That’s always a bad sign.)
“We’ll be dissecting the latest tweet from President Trump,” she said, sarcastically, before insisting that politics will never be welcome in this safe space of an hour. Instead, her show will encourage viewers to escape from the awful world, “to laugh with us” (not one genuinely funny thing happened in this first episode), to which Kelly added her wish that viewers will enjoy “a smile, sometimes a tear, and maybe some hope to start your day.”
She talked vaguely about her incredible journey from one network (which she assiduously avoided naming) to NBC and how the spirit of her father, who died when she was a teenager, was somehow involved in this miraculous intervention of contracts. (Isn’t that fascinating? Don’t you feel so much closer to Kelly already? No?)
Then she took questions from the audience — the first from a gushing fan: “What’s been your greatest joy?” while moving from hosting a nighttime show to hosting a morning show, he wanted to know. The second was from Kelly’s husband, who didn’t have a question — he just wanted to bring her roses. They hugged each other woodenly, as if they’d just met.
After that, Kelly welcomed the stars of NBC’s “Will & Grace,” which returns to the network Thursday night. Here you have four seasoned comedy actors (Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally), who, if nothing else, probably know how to be funny and chatty and casual. But they also heard Kelly declare her show as politics-free, so, after she told them how much fun she had watching the old show back in the day (her day), they really didn’t have much to talk about, since the revived “Will & Grace’s” first episode happens to wind up in Trump’s Oval Office, where Grace has been hired to redecorate.
Kelly also summoned from her audience a “superfan” of the original “Will & Grace,” who said he considered the McCormack’s Will Truman character a role model. Kelly asked the man if he “became a lawyer [and] became gay” from watching the show.
Very smooth. The TV stars mostly stared and smiled at Kelly and tried to answer her dopey questions (“Were you worried at all that the magic wouldn’t be there?”). It’s the one problem that has hounded Kelly even during Fox days — she’s just not good at talking to people or with people, instead of at people.
The hour crawled by. A middle segment featured the “Today” regulars welcoming Kelly to 30 Rockefeller Center, a predawn festivity of studied smarm, with the added delight of seeing Kathie Lee Gifford sit in her makeup chair and play nice-nice with Kelly the way an old house cat would welcome a naive and extra-squeaky mouse to the kitchen. Then everyone came to Kelly’s stage to drink mimosas and bask in the NBC-ness of it all.
Kelly ended the hour with a short, prerecorded puff-piece about a Chicago nun, Sister Donna Liette, who ministers to young men and their mothers in the city’s roughest neighborhoods. After that, Kelly welcomed Liette to the stage, whereupon the Coldwell Banker real estate company and Ace Hardware presented her with a giant cardboard check and a giant gift card. Hallelujah and God bless — the hour was finally over.
Then Kelly reminded us she’ll be back Tuesday morning (and for as many mornings as it takes to either work this thing out or cancel it), this time with the cast of “This Is Us” and a fair warning: “My mom has something she wants to share with you.” Rest assured that “something” has to do with the wonderful, hopeful, shallow world of being Megyn Kelly.