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Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly: An Update

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Photo: Fox News

On Sunday, Megyn Kelly’s floundering NBC newsmagazine show was delayed due to a NASCAR race that ran long. This edition of Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly featured the host interviewing entertainment correspondent Maria Menounos about her brain tumor surgery. The hour barely managed to beat CBS’s Candy Crush — and both shows were walloped by Steve Harvey’s Funderdome on ABC. It was a by now typically low-rated outing for Sunday Night. Meanwhile, deep in Bill O’Reilly’s family room somewhere in suburbia, the exiled Fox News host has been sitting around in his shorts trying to make a go of this podcast thing he calls “The No Spin News,” with occasional time-outs to give that Twitter thing some renewed effort.

Doesn’t it already seem like a long time ago that Bill and Megyn were the hottest time-period couple on cable news? The O’Reilly Factor and The Kelly File were unbeatable as Fox News’s primetime one-two punch. Soaring in the ratings, churning out bestselling books, and making news with contentious interviews, they were as hot as TV news hosts get. Then Kelly decided to take her star power to NBC. And O’Reilly was engulfed by a sexual-harassment scandal that compelled the Murdoch family to oust him.

Fox has taken a hit in losing O’Reilly and Kelly. Last week, for the first time, MSNBC’s primetime schedule beat Fox News’s primetime lineup of Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, and Hannity.

Of course, ratings can seem relative when you have the ear and eye of the president of the U.S. On Monday night, Donald Trump began tweeting about the Washington Post’s piece on a CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria. Why that night? Well, it seems likely it was because Trump had only heard about the Post’s piece by watching Tucker Carlson’s Monday night segment on it. Carlson, of course, occupies O’Reilly’s old time period, and it must be killing Bill that whoever is on Fox has the president’s full attention. Trump and O’Reilly used to be buddy-buddy; the president even tweeted support for O’Reilly at the start of the latter’s scandal. But these days? You don’t see Trump tweeting about what he heard on O’Reilly’s podcast. Instead, you see O’Reilly trying to master the tone of Twitter snark. Last night, he got into a fetchingly low-cut polo shirt to deliver this complaint about his time at — yes! — Fox News.

As for Kelly, she must be wondering what she has to do to catch a break. Her big interview with right-wing nutjob Alex Jones garnered mostly bad publicity and minimal ratings, and viewers have not been enticed by her softer human-interest stories, either. Come September, she’s due to launch an NBC daytime talk show, going up against the power duo that forms Live with Kelly and Ryan. Like Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, Kelly will have a live studio audience — which could prove a big problem for her. Kelly has done her best work in live-TV situations, but those tended to be in adversarial or breaking-news moments. She has yet to prove she has any of the warm chemistry that might bring forth audience affection, either in the studio or from viewers at home. And premiering after Today and against stiff competition is no place to find your footing in a new venture.

O’Reilly keeps saying he’s going to announce something big — some new broadcasting project — and maybe someday he will, sooner or later. But right now, his guest appearances on Glenn Beck’s Blaze online doohickey have been grim exercises in ego reduction. Bill does not do well when asked to share with others.

What both Kelly and O’Reilly may be learning is that their vehicle to fame was more powerful than either of their individual talents as broadcasters. At this point, O’Reilly may be sipping his morning coffee while staring at the TV screen and thinking, “Dang! I could host that Fox & Friends thing as well as Steve Doocy does!”

Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on NBC.

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