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Megyn Kelly's woes are typical of high-priced news talent poached from rival networks


Putting on a brave front with Megyn Kelly Today. NBC photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
It’s not going as planned for NBC. But for some of us, it’s going pretty much as expected.

Pirating a star player from a rival network and then paying that person enough money to balance the federal budget has a long tradition of not working. As is currently the case with Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News Channel force who hasn’t been much to reckon with at NBC after first fronting a little-watched prime-time news magazine and now a 9 a.m. extension of Today with her name affixed.

Ratings and reviews for both showcases have NBC News executives wondering what they’ve done to themselves. Megyn Kelly Today, which launched on Sept. 25th, so far has been digging an increasingly deeper Death Valley ratings-wise in its slot between the longstanding Matt Lauer/Savannah Guthrie-hosted Today and Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda. The latter hour also has seen its numbers erode without a more compatible and higher-rated lead-in from the junked 9 a.m. Today hour with Al Roker and Tamron Hall, who quickly left the network in a huff.

Some say that Kelly simply doesn’t “translate” from the conservative-minded Fox News Channel to NBC Universal, which oversees both mainstream NBC and left-leaning MSNBC, archenemy of FNC. There may be some truth to that, although the history of such moves raises other questions.

Are everyday viewers impressed by someone who’s being force-fed to them while at the same time making what in fact is an obscene amount of money? These same viewers hold the priceless trump cards. They can help to ensure failure merely by not watching.

Incumbent staff resentments in turn breed an understandable contempt for the incoming savior. The knives already are out at NBC, with Kelly being portrayed as a disaster or worse by eager unnamed sources within the network’s walls. After all, “one of their own” didn’t get a chance to move up. Instead, Kelly moved in.

In the long history of network television news, just one high-priced “Big Get” has proved to be well worth the hefty price.

But it took Barbara Walters a while after she first got snubbed by holdover ABC News anchor Harry Reasoner. Walters was poached in 1976 from NBC, where she’d been a prominent, trailblazing member of the Today team. ABC’s carrot was the chance to become the first woman ever to co-anchor a network nightly newscast. But Reasoner deeply resented a desk mate, and a woman at that. Their partnership ended in failure, but Walters went on to become a megastar as the co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20, the host of numerous high-rated prime-time specials and the founder of daytime’s The View.

Otherwise the track record is dismal. Ask CBS. The network has struck out three times after pirating Bryant Gumbel, Connie Chung and Katie Couric -- all from NBC.

Gumbel bombed as anchor of a prime-time news magazine called Public Eye, and then as co-host of CBS’ morning show.

Chung also failed big-time, first with her own prime-time news hour and then as co-anchor of the CBS Evening News with a growingly discontented Dan Rather.

Couric’s five-year tour as sole anchor of the CBS Evening News arguably became the biggest flop of all, given all of the attendant publicity. She’s since bounced from ABC News to a syndicated daytime talk show to Yahoo! News to a podcast.

Meanwhile, it’s been proven time and again that news networks are better off nurturing their own homegrown talent and then moving them up the chain. Two of the three current network evening news anchors -- ABC’s David Muir and NBC’s Lester Holt -- were promoted from within. Two generations earlier, Ted Koppel went from a little-known correspondent at ABC News to the household name of Nightline. Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Charles Gibson, Bob Schieffer, Andy Rooney, Lesley Stahl and many more also came up through their respective network’s ranks.

CBS currently is in the process of deciding on a “permanent” anchor of the CBS Evening News after Scott Pelley was dropped. Veteran correspondent Anthony Mason has been filling in, and he’s not a likely long-term choice. But whatever you do, CBS, resist the urge to pay a king’s or a queen’s ransom for someone else’s supposedly hot commodity. It’s just not the way to go. And that’s the way it is.

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