Could Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly be heading to CNN to host a prime-time show that would air directly opposite, well, you know who?
A breathless story topping Drudgereport.com — under the headline “Kelly May Jump” — says CNN chief Jeff Zucker is “actively perusing” Kelly to anchor an 8 p.m. weeknight series or a 9 p.m. one (“The Kelly File” currently airs at 9).
Besides use of the tepid word “perusing,” Drudge’s story, posted late Thursday morning, does offer a further qualification: CNN almost certainly will not, or cannot, come up with Kelly’s (widely reported) $20 million salary demand, or a standing Fox News offer that reportedly sweetens even that figure. (CNN will offer other inducements, including platforms on other Time Warner properties, per Drudge.)
Nevertheless, Drudge has particularly close ties to Fox News, and there’s nothing to suggest that “perusing” is not the right word either.
To believe other reports in recent months — some equally out of breath — Kelly has held meetings with ABC News.
Indeed, many observers always assumed CNN to be waiting — or lurking — just offstage, too. Even if cast in the role of potential spoiler, CNN could force up Kelly’s market value — and the cost to Fox News. And if CNN is serious about a Kelly prime-time role, the theatrical value alone of such a cross-network jump would fill columns and websites for months — columns and websites, by the way, that have been deprived a high-stakes, big-dollar TV news talent war for years.
Sarah Ellison, Vanity Fair’s beat writer on the Kelly stakes, in October offered one of the more interesting takes, however. Confirming via a “CNN insider” that “of course we would love to have her [but] it is not something we are seriously considering,” she went on to report that the scramble for Kelly’s services has yet to materialize. The compelling reason: The (reported) price tag is simply too high. Per reports, yet to be confirmed by NBC News, Matt Lauer renewed his contract at “Today” earlier this fall for $20 million per year over a two-year span. (Page Six first had that figure.) But if true, that would represent a moderate decline from his current salary — reported a few years ago to be in the $25 million range.
Lauer’s role, however, is singular compared to the role Kelly would hypothetically assume, if she were to jump to CNN: He is co-anchor of the most profitable franchise on television, and remains a key part of the “Today” show’s continued run at “Good Morning America.”
By contrast, a Kelly show opposite “The O’Reilly Factor” at 8 p.m. faces all sorts of intriguing questions, or obstacles, most notably this: “Factor” remains the most viewed program on cable news by a comfortable margin, challenged only by “The Kelly File” at 9. Would a Kelly-CNN show experience a big slide if it were to air at 8?
Conversely, would it cut into “The O’Reilly Factor,” a huge blow for Fox?
There’s another reason why all of this remains in the realm of speculation and idle industry chatter: Kelly’s contract at Fox News does not end until next July. Eight months is hardly an eternity, but still plenty of time for Kelly — and everyone else — to sort this out.