In losing Megyn Kelly, Fox News appears to have fallen upward to higher ratings at a lower price.
"Fox News's Tucker Carlson is nearly doubling the ratings of his predecessor, Megyn Kelly, when compared to the same time period last year, according to Nielsen Media Research," reports The Hill. "'Tucker Carlson Tonight' is up 95 percent in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic that advertisers covet most compared with the same period in 2016, when 'The Kelly File' occupied the 9 p.m. ET time slot. Carlson has averaged 775,000 viewers per night in the category, while Kelly averaged 398,000 during the same time period, Jan. 11–22."
That Kelly can be so easily eclipsed is a bad omen for NBC. It is a testimony to the effectiveness of Carlson, but it also hints at the hollowness of the buzz around her. Much of that buzz derived from her status as a subversive at a conservative-leaning network, talk that will dissipate once she's at NBC. Plus, Fox News viewers don't appear to miss her too terribly, and there is little reason to believe they'll follow her to NBC.
As Jack Shafer notes, stars who leave the networks that made them stars often fail away from them: "One lesson [Barbara] Walters and [Katie] Couric — and the other high-profile network defectors (Harry Reasoner, Diane Sawyer, Roger Mudd, et al.) — teach is of the non-transferability of TV star power. TV stars struggle to survive outside of the context in which they were nurtured. The current network anchors — Scott Pelley, David Muir and Lester Holt — all benefited from the fact that they ripened their talents at their respective networks before they got their evening chairs. Viewers grew accustomed to their faces and their styles."
Kelly's decision to leave was supposed to weaken Fox News and bolster its competitors. But so far it appears to have saved Rupert Murdoch a ton of money (he was offering her a reported $100 million to stay) while eliminating a growing problem: a star, more popular with chattering-class pundits than conservative viewers, who was increasingly showboating at the expense of the network.
According to Shafer, "Television talent raids — like the one NBC News chairman Andrew Lack has just pulled off — are almost never a simple matter of improving your own roster. As the history of broadcasting shows us, a single major defection by a popular anchor rarely improves that acquiring network's ratings or public appeal. The primary aim of such larceny: Weaken your TV opponent's line-up by making off with one of their visible stars. Anything else accomplished is just gravy."
By that standard, NBC has already failed. In switching from Kelly to Carlson, Fox has gained a new star and freed itself from an overrated one.
George Neumayr is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.