Megyn Kelly said on the first episode of her new NBC morning show, which aired Monday, that for years she’d “dreamed of hosting an uplifting show.”
But just three episodes in, her celebrity guests seem to find the show anything but uplifting. Kelly’s penchant for speaking her mind, regardless of how her words might be perceived, caused two of her celebrity guests to speak out against the host after their respective appearances.
The most recent was Jane Fonda, whom Kelly pressed to discuss her plastic surgery.
Fonda appeared on the show with Robert Redford on Wednesday to promote the new film “Our Souls at Night.” After asking Redford when he felt that he was a “heartthrob,” to much laughter and applause, Kelly turned her attention to Fonda.
“You’ve been an example to everyone in how to age beautifully and with strength and unapologetically,” Kelly began.
The crowd broke into applause as Fonda mouthed, “Thank you.”
Then Kelly said, “You admit you’ve had work done, which I think is to your credit. But you look amazing. . . . I read that you said you’re not proud to say you’ve had work done. Why not?”
Fonda’s face tightened, and her lips pursed. It was clear to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of human emotion that she was not happy.
“We really want to talk about that now?” she said.
A chuckling Kelly pressed on, undeterred.
“Well, one of the things people think when they look at you is how amazing you look,” Kelly responded.
“Well, thanks,” Fonda said, her voice filled with barely suppressed animosity. “Good attitude, good posture. I take care of myself. But let me tell you why I love this movie that we did, ‘Our Souls at Night,’ rather than plastic surgery.”
Perhaps Kelly’s insistence on the line of questioning isn’t surprising.
“Kelly is, naturally, a combatant,” wrote the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix. “She is at her nauseating best when devastating an opponent: talking over them, rolling her eyes, or flipping menacingly through her notes.”
But it made the experience of appearing on her morning talk show uncomfortable.
When later asked about the segment, Fonda told ET Canada that she was surprised at what she considered an inappropriate question.
“Given the fact that we don’t have a lot of time and [Robert Redford] is right here, it’s a weird thing to bring up — whether I’ve had plastic surgery or not. I have and I’ve talked about it,” Fonda said. “Seemed like the wrong time and place to ask that question.”
Fonda marked Kelly’s second famous critic in her debut week.
During her premiere show, Kelly brought on the cast of “Will & Grace,” a sitcom about a gay lawyer named Will and his best friend, a straight woman named Grace.
During the segment, Kelly surprised the cast with a “superfan” in the audience named Russell Turner. Like the character Will, Turner is a gay lawyer.
“Is it true that you became a lawyer, and you became gay, because of Will?” Kelly asked.
While the audience laughed, Debra Messing, the actress who portrays Grace, wore a look of shock.
Then Kelly pressed on, saying, “I think the ‘Will & Grace’ thing and the gay thing is going to work out great.”
Later that day, Messing responded to a fan on Instagram who asked, “But why did you guys do the Megyn Kelly show? That’s a fail!!”
“Honestly I didn’t know it was MK until that morning. The itinerary just said Today show appearance. Regret going on. Dismayed by her comments,” Messing wrote, according to the Los Angeles Times. The post appears to have been deleted.
Backlash quickly spread across Twitter. “Megyn Kelly is every mom trying waaaaay to hard to ‘relate’ to her gay son but instead just makes it waaaaay worse,” wrote one user.
It’s too early to know if this backlash will hurt the show’s ratings or Kelly’s chance at booking big stars in the future, though there’s no shortage of morning shows for celebrities to choose from.
But it’s a bad look for a new show, one already harshly derided by critics.
As CNN’s Brian Lowry wrote, “It’s absurdly early, of course, to draw any conclusions about the efficacy of the Kelly experiment. Still . . . it’s worth considering that NBC News brass leaped at the opportunity to snag a high-profile news star without having fully thought through how best to deploy her.”
Kelly still has time to grow into the role of morning host. But as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote, “Whereas Kelly’s job once called for her to bludgeon the appropriate people — generally liberals — at the right time, her new charge is to be relatable, likable, vivacious, etc.”
She may still have some work to do on that front.
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