In the summer of 2016, it seemed the approaching end of television journalist Megyn Kelly’s contract with Fox News in mid-2017 couldn’t have been better timed for her. The host of the daily evening news program The Kelly File on Fox, she had seen her profile rise over the past year, beginning with her pointed questioning of Donald J. Trump at the first Republican presidential debate in August 2015. Kelly would later characterize Trump’s coarse post-debate criticism and lingering fixation on her as unnerving, but the drama boosted her stature as a bold, tough reporter, and ratings for her Fox show rose steadily.
James and Lachlan Murdoch, top 21st Century Fox executives and sons of the company’s CEO, Rupert Murdoch, were determined to convince Kelly to renew her contract. In July, the brothers reportedly expedited the departure of Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes from the network after Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson abruptly quit and sued him for sexual harassment. Anticipating that Hillary Clinton would be the next president, the younger Murdochs were said to want to steer Fox in a more moderate direction. The brothers offered Kelly their support in her feud with Trump and discussed their desire to make her their “proxy” at the network, according to Newsweek.
Having said that she would like to host a long-form interview show that would allow her to spend more time with her family, Kelly began meeting with other networks to consider her options.
Anticipating a frenzied bidding war, the Murdoch brothers reportedly offered to boost her salary from $10–$12 million per year to about $20 million per year, on a par with the earnings of Fox’s
most successful host, Bill O’Reilly. The brothers asked Kelly to make a decision about contract renewal before launching her memoir, Settle for More, in November. But with her star power burning ever brighter in the lead-up to the election, Kelly extended her job search.
After Trump’s upset victory, which other Fox News hosts met with glee, Kelly seemed to become more serious about moving on to another network. According to Newsweek, Kelly had become isolated at Fox, in part because staffers felt her revelation in her book that Ailes had sexually harassed her as well had been disloyal. It was becoming evident that Kelly was in no position to be the leader at Fox that the Murdoch brothers had planned.
A new beginning
The anticipated auction for Kelly never materialized. The two front-runners in the race, CNN and ABC, each decided to bow out. ABC may have lost interest in poaching Kelly from Fox after her heavily promoted prime-time interview with Trump was a critical and ratings disappointment, according to Vanity Fair.
In the end, it was NBC News, which had flown under the radar throughout much of Kelly’s search, that captured her attention. Unlike other networks, which offered preconceived notions of how she would fit into their schedules, NBC “came to her with a blank slate and asked her what she would like to do . . . and then delivered it,” a source close to Kelly told Vanity Fair. NBC News chairman Andrew Lack offered Kelly a daytime show that would allow her to have dinner with her family every day, as well as a Sunday news-magazine show.
On January 3, Kelly informed Lachlan Murdoch that she would be leaving Fox for NBC. She is believed to have accepted a salary that is slightly lower than what the Murdochs ultimately offered for the chance to increase her time with her family and take creative risks. And risks they are: The daytime talk shows of established news personalities such as Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, and Meredith Vieira have all flopped in recent years.
Job negotiation tips from the Kelly files:
Get the timing right. Kelly carried out job negotiations at a snail’s pace to drum up maximum interest, but be careful not to let your negotiations run on so long that counterparts lose interest.
Listen to learn. To win over top job candidates, start off by asking them what they’re looking for rather than telling them how they would fit in.
Anticipate shifting tides. Because no one has a crystal ball, prepare contingencies in the event that unforeseen circumstances derail your carefully laid plans.