She is steely, stern, prepared. Her training as a lawyer helps. Her experience as a Fox News star does, too.
It’s why Megyn Kelly, host of “The Kelly File,” one of the right-leaning network’s most popular shows, can dangle herself as a cable television free agent over the head of her current boss. It’s why she can seek an average annual salary of more than $20 million for her next contract, reports The Wall Street Journal, raising her current salary by more than $5 million and aligning her with Fox colleague, Bill O’Reilly.
It’s why she can be critical of not just Hillary Clinton, but also Donald Trump.
It’s why she is applauded for asking critical questions about the sexual assault allegations against the GOP nominee for president, then heralded further for telling Newt Gingrich, after insulting her on her own show, to take his anger issues elsewhere.
It was “an important moment in one of the more interesting subplots in this election – the dawning realization by at least some conservative women that many of the men in their movement are not on their side,” wrote Michelle Goldberg in Slate.
Gingrich tweeted, “For the record, @megynkelly was wrong, i don’t have anger management issues. I do have media bias issues!”
But on the brink of a potential career upheaval, can she also prove her versatility?
It appears that Nov. 9 could be her chance.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Fox News journalist is booked to co-host the morning talk show “Live” with Kelly Ripa the day after the election, filling a seat that has been empty since last spring when Ripa’s former co-host, Michael Strahan, joined “Good Morning America.”
Kelly Ripa is searching for a permanent partner.
Megyn Kelly might be searching for a new job.
But the women’s shows could not vary more in terms of tone and structure.
“Live” is lighthearted and jovial, a mix of celebrity interviews, live onstage antics and playful banter.
“The Kelly File” is hard-nosed and serious, a place for political interrogations and uncomfortable questions.
And thus far, Kelly’s opportunities to show that her Fox News persona wouldn’t cut the softer boundaries of daytime TV have been limited. In a primetime interview with Donald Trump in May, which garnered great hype after he relentlessly attacked her for months, Kelly aimed to show she could create a more intimate experience.
She wanted to prove she had “other muscles,” she told The New York Times in early May, and so in addition to Trump, she stretched beyond her political comfort zone and interviewed actors Laverne Cox and Michael Douglas about their personal struggles with sexual identity and health, respectively.
It was supposed to be her breakout moment. Instead, many critics said, it flopped.
“She’s not yet shown a warm and fuzzy side,” Shelley Ross, a former executive producer of “Good Morning America,” told The Wall Street Journal in a story this week about Kelly’s contract negotiations.
But that’s not to say Kelly isn’t extremely likable.
In her interview with Cox, a transgender actress most famous for her role on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, Kelly showed her willingness to step outside the conservative, Fox News echo-chamber and tackle issues of political and personal sensitivity. She asked Cox about her suicide attempt at age 11, her relationship with her twin brother and the fear she harbored years ago that her mother didn’t love her.
Cox, who got emotional during their conversation, playfully chastised Kelly for the intimate line of questioning.
“Let’s talk about romance,” Kelly then asked. “Give us a little something.”
“I like waking up in the morning and seeing a beautiful man next to me,” Cox said. “That’s one of the best things in the world.”
“Amen,” Kelly said warmly.
Kelly talks often of her children, and even said in a Variety interview in April that they are one of the reasons she has considered leaving her job on “The Kelly File” — that, and the vitriol this election season has unleashed upon her.
“I really like my show, and I love my team,” she said. “But you know, there’s a lot of brain damage that comes from the job. There was probably less brain damage when I worked in the afternoon. I was less well known. I had far less conflict in my life. I also have three kids who are soon going to be in school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I come to work at 3:30. I like to see my children.”
In that same Variety interview, she spoke of how heavily the feud with Trump weighed on her, the dangerous way women are spoken of and treated and her obsession with another famous woman that shares her gritty disposition.
“I freaking love Judge Judy,” she said. “She’s just, she’s the bomb.”
“First of all, I like how she doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” Kelly continued. “If you’re a moron, she’ll call you a moron. I can relate to that.”
This week, that was evident when Kelly asked former house speaker Newt Gingrich about the allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump. He threw a fit, told her she was “fascinated with sex” and said she didn’t care about public policy.
She said this: “We’re going to leave it at that, and you can take your anger issues and spend some time working on them, Mr. Speaker.”
Gingrich muttered “you, too.”
The interaction went viral, inspiring headlines like this from The Washington Post’s media columnist Margaret Sullivan: “Megyn Kelly’s killer moment with Gingrich was a welcome return to badassery.”
That so-called badassery may have been most prominently on display in August, when Kelly moderated the first Republican primary debate and grilled Trump on his insults toward women, saying he had called them “‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.'”
“Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?” she asked him.
And then there was the Trump comment that followed, when he said in a CNN interview that while Kelly questioned him, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
The two did not speak for nine months, when Trump came on her show for the primetime interview.
That segment — called “Megyn Kelly Presents” — was, like the “Live” co-hosting gig, a not-so-subtle audition for a job that doesn’t currently exist at her network, but one she hinted she hopes to create, there or elsewhere.
A void was created when Barbara Walters retired and Oprah left her daytime talk show, Kelly told The New York Times last spring.
“It’s there for the taking right now,” she said in the interview. “Those were the biggest spots to go for an interview if you had something you wanted to get off your chest, if you were in the middle of a scandal or a major news story and you wanted to do a long-form sit-down to get past it or to go on the record,” she said.
She told the Times in the interview, which happened before “Megyn Kelly Presents” aired, that one success benchmark was if viewers said they saw her “in a new light.”
“It doesn’t all have to be A-plus level of difficulty,” she told The Times. “It can be other kinds of questioning where you get more to somebody’s humanity and tell their story.”
And she aligned herself well with her choice in producer, Bill Geddie, a veteran of TV news who produced more than 100 segments for her journalistic idol — Barbara Walters.
Keeping Kelly at Fox News seems is a top priority, Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of Fox News and co-executive chairman of its parent company, 21st Century Fox, told The Wall Street Journal this week.
Murdoch told the newspaper he hopes to sign a contract with Kelly “very soon,” but that “it’s up to her.”
And though Murdoch emphasized during his interview with The Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t want to lose her, he also laid the groundwork for a post-Megyn Kelly reality at Fox News.
“We have a deep bench of talent, many of whom would give their right arm for her spot,” Murdoch said.
It seems Kelly, though, has remained steadfast in her push for a new kind of role once the mayhem of the 2016 presidential election wraps up, an evolution that mirrors her description of her celebrity idol Judge Judy.
In the interview with Variety, Kelly said the reality TV judge is “sort of like a Jeep.”
“Tough but cute,” she said.