Megyn Kelly was hanging around Chicago again Wednesday, but this time it wasn’t at the Hangge-Uppe off of Rush Street, where she said she used to spend a lot of her off-work hours as a young Chicago lawyer.
“We called it the Hangy-Uppy,” she said, on account of the spelling. “I was 24 years old, so I spent a lot of time on Division, and, you know, just all around Chicago — up and down Lake Shore Drive and rollerblading along the beach there and hanging out on Oak Street Beach.”
Instead of revisiting her haunts from two decades ago, Kelly, now 46, spent much of her August 2017 midday at Millennium Park. There she was interviewed about her upcoming new NBC morning show, “Megyn Kelly Today,” which will debut Sept. 25 in the third, 9 a.m. hour of the network’s “Today” bloc, and she did some interviews for it as well.
“Illinois is the college version of me,” she said, meaning: very much in debt. Speaking off-camera with Zoraida Sambolin, the morning host at local NBC station WMAQ-Ch. 5 and her partner in several recorded promotional walks through the park, Kelly was kinder toward Chicago, which she extolled for the same thing New Yorkers always note, the cleanliness.
“Mayor Daley was here, and you could eat off the sidewalks. It was great,” she said.
It’s been a tumultuous two years for Kelly, from then-candidate Donald Trump trying to pick a fight with her during a presidential primary debate to, in her memoir, accusing her longtime boss, Fox News Channel CEO Roger Ailes, of sexual harassment early in her career, to jumping to NBC.
But she said she’s never looked back on her decision to quit the law, which she practiced for a decade, half of those years in Chicago, in favor of TV news. She called her experience in the former profession “soul-crushing.”
“It is true that the past couple of years have not been fun for me professionally. I mean, they’ve been challenging and they’ve been a growth opportunity, but they were not fun,” she said. “It’s not reasonable to expect in any profession you’re going to have a dandy time every day and every month. But when it’s systemic and it goes on and on and on and on, you do have to do an honest re-evaluation.”
She said she’s loved the transition to network news because of the graciousness of her new colleagues and because of “resources, resources, resources,” she said. “NBC, they expect excellence, and they are willing to devote the resources needed to achieve excellence, and nothing less than excellence will do.”
But the on-air shift from Fox News, where she was a star, to NBC hasn’t been so easy. Originally announced for “around 10” episodes, her prime-time newsmagazine, “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” ended last month after eight episodes, amid mostly declining ratings.
Kelly said she looks at it another way. “I thought the ratings were fine,” she said, finally able to sit on a bench in the park’s Lurie Garden for a brief interview. “You know, we didn’t expect to beat ‘60 Minutes,’ but our average for the summer was actually quite solid, especially when you compare it to what had happened when they launched a little news magazine the summer before as an experiment.
“I have three children, and they didn’t come out of the womb running. They had to learn to crawl and then they walked and then they ran, and that’s the same for television shows. I didn’t expect anything other than that. Thankfully my bosses don’t, either.”
“Sunday Night” will return in the spring, a network spokeswoman said.
In the meantime, what is being billed as the network’s Plan A for her is on the horizon. “She is so smart, dynamic, excited and fresh,” Jaclyn Levin, executive producer of “Megyn Kelly Today,” said as she watched her star walk up and down the park’s Frank Gehry-designed bridge with Sambolin for the cameras. “She wants to do everything.”
The new show, in front of a live audience, will feature “content that is focused on inspiring and empowering people,” Kelly said. While she “likes” politics, she said, “this show is going to sort of scratch those other itches that every normal human being has when it comes to health and parenting and relationships and their own striving to ‘Settle for More,’” which is the title of her memoir.
So will it be the softer side of Megyn Kelly? “Sometimes it will be and sometimes it’ll be the same old me,” she said. “If I have some moron who comes on the show saying stupid stuff, I know how to hold those people to account.
“Frankly, I object to those who suggest that any woman has to choose between being tough and being soft.” Here she issued an oath, starting with “B,” that comes from her tough side. “Every woman I know is both tough and soft.”
When told that, with features like a live audience and topics such as empowerment, it sounds a little like you-know-who, Kelly didn’t fully object.
“So we’re in Chicago and I am certainly not going to compare myself to the goddess Oprah, who I love,” she said. “But, sure, she’s been an inspiration to me, spiritually and otherwise. I love the example she set for young women in particular. And so if my show can in any way be an inspiration to someone in the way she was to me, then that’s fantastic.”
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