Megyn Kelly has spent the last year alienating Fox News fans with her frequent attacks on Donald Trump as she tried to appeal to mainstream viewers. This week, it was revealed that Kelly was trying to leave Fox to join a mainstream media outlet like CNN.
Now, however, Kelly’s little escape plan has suffered a major setback that could destroy her career.
Kelly is said to have not made up her mind about staying with Fox News beyond the end of her contract in July, even with an offer of more than $20 million a year to stay, which would put her in the same income bracket as NBC’s “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer.
So far no other networks have offered to top Fox’s figure, according to network news executives and agents familiar with the talks and who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. A spokesperson for Creative Artists Agency, which represents Kelly, declined to comment on her contract negotiations.
Kelly’s future is being closely watched. She is the first breakout talent in the TV news business in recent years, becoming an even bigger name in the aftermath of her showdown with President-elect Donald Trump at the first Republican primary debate in 2015.
In an earlier era, her availability likely would have commanded a bidding war. But in a fragmented media environment where there are no longer surefire ratings hits, networks are cautious about making major financial commitments.
Fox News is willing to give Kelly a raise over the $15 million a year she is currently earning because she consistently attracts more than 3 million viewers a night for her prime-time program “The Kelly File.” But there is no guarantee that the loyalty of the Fox News audience is transferable to another channel, where Bill O’Reilly, the most popular personality on cable news, would not be her lead-in.
One agent who handles TV news talent noted how executives have been wary of taking a star out of a successful format since Katie Couric moved from NBC’s “Today” in 2006. After leaving the top-rated morning show, Couric was unable to move “CBS Evening News” out of third place in the ratings. She then failed in a bid with a daytime syndicated talk show.
“Katie Couric is the perfect example of how her success at the ‘Today’ show never transferred to anyplace else,” said the agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “And that happens with most people.”
A story on the Drudge Report, citing unnamed sources, said CNN President Jeff Zucker is making an aggressive play to bring Kelly to his network, which trails Fox News in the ratings. CNN declined to comment on the report.
While Zucker is a fan of Kelly’s work, there is internal skepticism that he can poach her because his network has eschewed huge salary deals for on-air talent.
Anderson Cooper is the top earner at CNN, receiving between $10 million and $12 million a year in his latest contract. After Cooper, the salary drop-off is significant, with no other CNN anchor earning more than $3 million a year.
Zucker “thinks Megyn Kelly is great, but we’re not going to pay her enough,” said one executive not authorized to comment publicly. “I think it’s more likely that she convinces the Murdochs [the family that controls Fox News parent 21st Century Fox] to pay her what she wants.”
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