Megyn Kelly's Tumultuous 2018: From Celebrity Feuds to Controversial Termination

By Zach Seemayer‍
Copyright (c) 2018 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When Megyn Kelly signed on for a multi-million dollar deal with NBC News to host her own daytime news talk show, Megyn Kelly Today, the former Fox News anchor was poised to make a major impact in the world of broadcast TV journalism.

After less than a year and a half, Kelly has certainly made an impact on the news -- but more as the subject of it rather than the disseminator. 

She endured a rough start with NBC in mid-2017, which included a controversial premiere interview with the cast of Will & Grace, a less-than-impressive exclusive interview with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, a controversial sit-down with right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and questionable remarks on a slew of different topics.

While much of the controversy was chalked up to Kelly settling into a new role with a new parent network, 2018 proved to be even worse for the longtime newswoman as she continued to make a lot of the same mistakes (with some of the same people) -- until it ultimately cost her her job. Here's a look back at Kelly's tumultuous year in the news.

Kelly Kicks Off the New Year Promoting Fat Shaming

Kelly wasn't even two weeks into the new year when she was already facing heat for a Megyn Kelly Today interview she conducted with fit mom-blogger Maria Kang, in which she suggested that Kang should turn "the shaming thing" into a professional business.

"Some of us want to be shamed," Kelly said. "When I was in law school, I was gaining weight. I said to my stepfather, 'If you see me going into that kitchen one more time, you say, 'Where you going, fat a**?' And it works!"

Needless to say, Kelly's remarks promoting fat shaming as a way of motivating women to lose weight didn't exactly go over well with many, and she soon found herself on the defensive, she issued an apology.

"I said something yesterday on this show that clearly struck a nerve, and I think it's a conversation we need to have, openly," she said during the following episode. "We were discussing body-shaming others, something I absolutely do not support. In fact, quite the opposite."

"Please know, I would never encourage that toward any person," she concluded. "I've been thinking a lot about why I once encouraged it toward myself. What I know for sure is that weight is an issue for millions of people, thin and heavy alike. And neither deserves to be judged or shamed for how they choose to handle that struggle."

Jane Fonda Reignites Feud With Kelly

Megyn Kelly Interviews Jane Fonda in September 2017
Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

While Kelly's chilly and awkward interview with Jane Fonda first made headlines in September 2017 after a question about plastic surgery, Fonda sparked tensions once more in January when she made an off-handed joke about the interview while promoting with Grace and Frankie on the Today show.

Hoda Kotb asked the Fonda and her longtime friend and co-star, Lily Tomlin, pair how long they'd known each other. Tomlin quipped, "A long time," before turning to Fonda to jokingly say, "I think before your first facelift."

Fonda quickly shot back, "Let's not go there. Who are you, Megyn Kelly?"

The actress dug in deeper during a Q&A with Variety a few days later, where she was asked about the infamously awkward interview with Kelly. "It wasn’t like I was upset. I was stunned. It was so inappropriate," Fonda said. "It showed that she’s not that good an interviewer."

When asked if she would ever return, Fonda said, "If she comes around and learns her stuff, sure."

The next day, Kelly decided to defend her original line of questioning, while at the same time shading the actress for being disingenuous.

"Well, the truth is most older women look nothing like Fonda, who is now 80. And if Fonda really wants to have an honest discussion about older women's cultural face, then her plastic surgery is tough to ignore," Kelly said. "She knows this, and that is why, to her credit, she’s discussed her cosmetic surgery pretty much everywhere before coming on our show."

Kelly Goes Toe-to-Toe With Putin Once Again

After scoring a historic exclusive interview with the Russian president back in June 2017 for an episode of Sunday Night, Kelly was roundly mocked for coming into the sit-down unprepared and for being outwitted and manipulated by the infamous politician.

So, when Kelly got the opportunity to try again she took it, and the results weren't much different. This time around, the reporter came at Putin with a more antagonistic tone and attempted to call him out on multiple controversies -- including Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election -- but Putin never faltered.

Many pundits and commentators called out the futility of the interview, considering how unlikely it would be for Putin to stray from his carefully crafted narrative of innocence. Additionally, Kelly and NBC were accused of inadvertently (or possibly purposefully) serving as a tool for the autocratic foreign leader to insinuate Russian propaganda into American culture. In the end, it was Kelly that took the heat for giving Putin yet another very public platform.

Charlize Theron Cast to Play Kelly in Upcoming Fox News Movie

Charlize Theron 1280
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

It was announced in May that Oscar winner Charlize Theron had been cast to play Kelly in a as-of-yet untitled drama that examines the sexual misconduct scandal surrounding the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

"I think it's an important story," Theron told ET in September. "It was written really well, and I think it was the writing, and the filmmaker, that made me realize it was in the right hands… We need to tell these stories, for sure."

The project, written by The Big Short screenwriter Charles Randolph and helmed by Jay Roach, tells the story of the women at Fox News who stood up to the toxic atmosphere of harassment and intimidation and got Ailes fired from the network.

Some of the first photos of Theron in costume as Kelly on the set of the upcoming film surfaced in November, on the same day it was revealed that NBC had cancelled Megyn Kelly Today.

Kelly Fondly Attempts to Defend Blackface Costumes

On Oct. 23, Kelly discussed the trend of some universities banning certain Halloween costumes with her guests, TV personalities Jenna Bush Hager, Melissa Rivers and Jacob Soboroff.

"I have to give you a fair warning, I'm a little fired up about Halloween costumes this morning," Kelly began the segment. "I mean, truly, political correctness has gone amok."

While Kelly's remarks fell well within the boundaries of the politically conservative viewpoints she's expressed many times in the past -- especially during her time as a Fox News host and pundit -- she pushed her remarks a step further when she weighed in on the use of blackface in Halloween costumes.

"What is racist?" she questioned. "You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was OK, just as long as you were dressing as a character."

Later in the panel discussion, Kelly doubled down on her defense while citing a controversy surrounding Real Housewives of New York cast member Luann de Lesseps, who faced backlash in April when, during the show 10th season premiere, she attended a Halloween party dressed as legendary singer Diana Ross, and sported noticeably darker skin.

"There was a controversy on The Real Housewives of New York with Luann, as she dressed as Diana Ross and she made her skin look darker than it really is," Kelly said. "People said that that was racist! And I don't know, like, I thought, like, 'Who doesn't love Diana Ross?' She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day. I don't know how that got racist on Halloween. It's not like she's walking around [wearing blackface] in general."

Celebs and Viewers Flip Out Over Her Comments

The backlash against Kelly's remarks was almost instantaneous.

Comedian Patton Oswalt, who is a year older than Kelly, tweeted, "Dear @megynkelly -- you and I are approximately the same age. Blackface was NOT okay when we were kids. Take it from a big-hearted boy who just wanted to show his love for Nipsey Russell on the worst Halloween of my life."

Meanwhile, TV personality and philanthropist Padma Lakshmi took it upon herself to answer Kelly's question of why blackface is considered racist: "Minstrelsy is the basis for the coining of the term 'Jim Crow' laws which served to humiliate & target Black Americans."

"Because caricaturing another race perpetuates the dehumanization of POC who are being killed & jailed at a disproportionate rate in the US," Lakshmi added.

The backlash was figuratively deafening.

 

Kelly Tearfully Apologizes for Offending People

Megyn Kelly
Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Hours after the episode of Megyn Kelly Today aired, the host sent out an internal email to her fellow NBC colleagues apologizing for her remarks, and explaining that the feedback she received led to her reconsidering her position.

"One of the wonderful things about my job is that I get the chance to express and hear a lot of opinions. Today is one of those days where listening carefully to other points of view, including from friends and colleagues, is leading me to rethink my own views." Kelly said, adding that she's come to realize that "the history of blackface in our culture is abhorrent; the wounds too deep." 

"I’ve never been a 'pc' kind of person -- but I understand that we do need to be more sensitive in this day and age. Particularly on race and ethnicity issues which, far from being healed, have been exacerbated in our politics over the past year," Kelly added. "This is a time for more understanding, love, sensitivity and honor, and I want to be part of that."

On Oct. 24, the day after the ill-fated roundtable discussion, Kelly addressed the elephant in the room at the top of her show, and was brought to tears while apologizing for her poorly received comments.

"I'm Megyn Kelly and I want to begin with two words -- I'm sorry," she shared, emotionally, later adding that she "was wrong" to defend the objectively racist practice. 

     

"One of the great parts of sitting in this chair each day is getting to discuss different points of view," she continued. "Sometimes I talk and sometimes I listen, and yesterday, I learned. I learned that given the history of blackface being used in awful ways by racists in this country it is not OK for that to be part of any costume, Halloween or otherwise."

Kelly's Apology Can't Save Her Show 

It was announced after her apology aired on Wednesday that Kelly would not be appearing for the remainder of the week, with reruns of her show to air in the time slot. Hours later, a source with inside knowledge of the production told ET that the show had been cancelled all together.

While her blackface comments were likely the last straw when it came to her show ending, it seems that the program was unlikely to continue into 2019 either way, as it had been plagued by lower than expected ratings and behind-the-scenes strife.

"I’ve felt the show was coming to an end in December no matter what," a source told ET at the time. "It was clear that it was not working and there is a lot of dysfunction." 

According to the source, three of Kelly’s producers complained to the network execs during the summer of 2018 and demanded "to be taken off of the show because of all the chaos and bullsh**t." Additionally, the source alleged that bookers and producers regularly had a difficult time convincing guests to come on the show.

NBC announced on Oct. 26 -- just three days after the scandal began -- that Megyn Kelly Today was no more.

Fonda Shows Sympathy After Kelly's Cancellation

While Fonda and Kelly had a particularly heated feud, it seems that the Grace and Frankie actress took no delight in Kelly's misfortune. ET caught up with Fonda on Nov. 1, at the Women's Media Center Awards in New York City, and she addressed the cancellation of Kelly's show.

"I feel badly, because, you know, I wanted her to make it. I did," the 80-year-old actress admitted, adding that she still believed that this could be a learning opportunity for the embattled TV personality. "That's always how everyone learns, through making mistakes... It's through failure that we grow and learn. I know that has been true for me, and I think it is for everybody," she added.

Kelly's Future Remains Unclear, But Not Bleak

Megyn Kelly
Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

While her show has been cancelled, Kelly has not been let go from NBC entirely...yet.

According to the latest reports, Kelly and NBC are still working on negotiating a payout settlement regarding her original three-year, $69 million contract, with Kelly poised to be paid in full. Kelly is reportedly interested in getting back to work as soon as possible, and there seems to be no shortage of offers. Kelly had reportedly expressed interest in the past -- even before her show's cancellation -- to return to a position covering news and politics, as opposed to the daytime talk show format.

As 2019 approaches, it seems that Kelly likely won't be off the air in the new year for very long.

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Copyright (c) 2018 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.