Megyn Kelly, FilmStruck and Media

The recent cancellation of Megyn Kelly Today demonstrates the folly of putting popularity above good business principles. When NBC, which is owned by NBCUniversal (which is owned by cable corporation Comcast), recently signed the Fox News personality to a reported $69 million contract, the broadcasting unit severely overestimated Kelly’s value.

NBC’s executives should’ve read my review of her debut on Fox News. Kelly’s hard, self-centered manner may have been suited to the Fox News cable television brand, but her brand is defective. It’s not surprising that audience reception and ratings have been mediocre at best.

The astronomical price tag for such a vapid hostess, or, if you insist, “celebrity journalist”, underscores the media industry’s fixation on ratings, metrics and short-term gain to the detriment of quality and credibility, proper standards and practices and long-term profit and progress.

Megyn Kelly, an intelligent lawyer who has more in common with the president and other vulgar, showboating sensationalists than she does with able-minded journalists, has never been serious (read my comparison of Kelly and NBC’s other overpaid darling, Trump, here). By hiring Megyn Kelly as it did, NBC showed its desperation and a willingness to do anything for a hit as a presumably non-leftist counterpoint to its leftist brand. Unfortunately, NBC’s supposed goal to gain intellectual balance probably will be abandoned, as against the network’s fixation on getting up fast hits.

While NBC backtracks on Megyn Kelly, with whom it’s apparently still negotiating, for dubious reasons, Comast’s competitor AT&T has made the call to cancel its Turner-branded streaming service for independent films, FilmStruck. This service, affiliated with the Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies (TCM), represented a real commitment to streaming thoughtful, harder-to-find motion pictures. AT&T terminated FilmStruck, which was part of Turner’s parent WarnerMedia company, for FilmStruck’s lack of a wider audience. WarnerMedia may launch its own streaming service to compete with Disney’s proprietary streaming service and outlets such as Netflix.

The termination is another AT&T mistake. As Comcast fails to grasp why metrics and popularity alone are not proper tools for forecasting success, AT&T’s decision to nix FilmStruck shows the media corporation’s failure to understand the same idea. While FilmStruck, which for full disclosure I wrote scripts for last season, was too focused on intellectuals and with an ivory tower slant, as a brand FilmStruck showed potential for appealing to wider audiences.

Experimenting with new ideas is crucial for media success. AT&T, which, in my experience is mostly incompetent at delivering goods and services, doesn’t know how to cultivate its assets any better than NBC knows how to apply better judgment to the business of earning its television, streaming or media customers’ trust (i.e., NBC News, especially MSNBC).

FilmStruck ends its operations in America and the world late next month. I think that, in the current cultural context, it’s unlikely that WarnerMedia will replace it with a classic movie streaming service or brand, though the company, with its vast Warner Bros. archive of great movies, should do exactly that. Cynical Megyn Kelly, on the other hand (or more empty vessels like her), is unfortunately likely to return to media in some other program or format.

Both cancellations, with Kelly’s cancellation coming in the aftermath of her controversial comments — further eroding the media industry’s commitment to defending the freedom of speech — are a sign that the culture’s plunging down. Ditching Megyn Kelly for being controversial — her problem is lack of coherence, consistency and authenticity, not any among her ginned up controversies — and abandoning movie streaming for being intellectual portend more of the anti-intellectualism already spreading fast in American culture.

America is already besieged by increasingly bloodthirsty irrationalists, from assaults on softball diamonds and gay nightclubs to mass shootings at the nation’s churches and synagogues. The United States needs more serious, controversial and thoughtful programming, not fewer choices among the status quo.

Americans in media, producers and consumers alike, should ease up on the asinine pictures, memes and clips and focus instead on producing and consuming more intelligent, radical material and make and watch it faster than ever. Comcast and AT&T, through whomever remains subversive at NBC, Universal, Turner and Warner Bros., and I know you’re out there, should take note: replace Kelly and FilmStruck with more rational programs, discourse and ideas, not more pap. There’s value to gain. There’s little value, such as credibility, left to lose.

TV Review: The Kelly File

Fox News (which, at its best, is better than its competition, though CNN is making improvements) continues its decline. With more piffle on the air in its prime time lineup, more self-aggrandizing segments and more of the same style over substance in shows, guests and topics, the 17-year-old channel’s programming is less informative than ever. The newest addition, a piddling piece of fluff titled The Kelly File, went blank for an hour in its awful premiere last night and wound up with less value to offer than an episode of Three’s Company. At least that vacuous ABC comedy didn’t pretend to be anything decent or satisfying, just an excuse to ogle well-endowed women and chuckle at bawdy jokes, the Ropers or Mr. Furley.

Fox News’ newest darling, Megyn Kelly, whom they’ve been breathlessly grooming and promoting for years now, is another cable television blonde with a law degree and not much else. In other words, she’s like Chrissy from Three’s Company but not as thoughtful. At least dim Chrissy tried to make sense of the world around her. Ms. Kelly, who’s been at her best in fragmented legal segments when she’s pitted against the network’s chief personality, Bill O’Reilly, in his lead-in The O’Reilly Factor, doesn’t approach Chrissy in sincerity or dedication to her task. Megyn Kelly’s as hard and narcissistic as Chrissy Snow was soft and magnanimous.

TV_Fox_Kelly_at_Night_inev_t607Only The Kelly File is presented as factual, not fictional. With heavy promotion, and after her flatlining debate moderation during the 2012 presidential campaign, Ms. Kelly began with a softball interview with Tea Party hero Sen. Ted Cruz, (R, Texas), who has led a rebellion against the nation’s most far-reaching government dictate (ObamaCare), sparked a small government shutdown and challenged Republican Party leaders to confront and defy the President who negotiates with Islamic dictatorships but not duly elected Congressional leaders. One would think the TV personality in charge of the show would have something serious and interesting to ask of such a man.

Think again. Thinking is on the way out in this dumbed down culture – which is not just dumbed down by Fox News – and The Kelly File like its name is merely the latest example of the Oprah-ization of American television and the disappearance of serious, let alone objective, broadcast journalism. The Kelly File joins Fox’s The Five and The O’Reilly Factor in the spread of vacuous if alliterative shows that are more show than news or analysis. If TV feels like Network (1976) come to life, with Howard Beale (Peter Finch) raging while Black Panthers and mystics pop off for higher ratings in a culture down the tubes, it’s not your imagination. In fact, O’Reilly teased a “Mad as Hell” segment earlier this month.

It’s not that Ms. Kelly is not intelligent and certainly there’s a place for attractive people on television. The problem with her show is that she tries too hard, constantly talks about herself and mugs for the camera and none of this adds up to fair, balanced or useful programming. She showed a clip of a race car wipeout video that’s been looping all day long. She talked about Miley Cyrus. She teased her news reel several times. She eventually interviewed three people who question the government’s decision to shoot to kill an unarmed woman in Washington, DC in the most compelling segment, which felt like the shortest segment. Ms. Kelly hardly scratched the surface. When one of the guests, a black man who pointed out that one does not lose one’s individual rights when stopped by police near the White House, Megyn Kelly had nothing else to say or ask. She showed no more interest in the shooting and death of a mother recklessly driving alone with her child for no apparent reason than she did in Sen. Cruz, shutting down government or defaulting on the nation’s debt. It’s as though everything to her is blurry, fast and best left unexamined.

She proceeded without disclosure to share a headline printed by a newspaper owned by the same company that owns Fox News. The headline posed a question that was debunked by her two legal guests in another short segment about a serious, big-city threat to life and a child in a moving vehicle before migrating to her favorite subject, herself, her 10-year-old audition footage and pictures of her spouse and children, one of whom is a baby she calls her “little man” (a demeaning expression which would be unacceptable had a father called his infant daughter his “little woman”). On top of that, the hard-charging cream puff smirked and mugged her way through a free-for-all with Fox’s cast from The Five in which she got facts wrong and wanted to know if the panelists had ever “hooked up.”

Megyn Kelly ended her show by urging us to “continue the conversation” apparently without realizing that, like most in today’s perceptual-bound culture, especially TV, she hadn’t started one. She hadn’t came close. In fact, Ms. Kelly in her Kelly File premiere never seemed for a second like she wants to, or knows how to, think for herself, much less give the audience the facts and analysis with which to do the same. Her predecessor with his self-proclaimed influence factor boasts every night that “the spin stops here.” Increasingly on Fox News and in what’s best described as a lighter version of the preceding show, so does news, thought and intelligent conversation.

[Summer 2015 postscript: the show and hostess have improved. Ms. Kelly has demonstrated that she is capable of being more serious than she was in her debut, discussing the Islamic terrorist attack on free speech and the first Islamic terrorist beheading in America at length and exploring important issues in greater depth. But in her moderation of the 2016 Republican presidential debate, she reverted to her sensationalistic, anti-conceptual approach with loaded and improper questions about supernaturalism and quotes from reality TV show-based celebrity spats.]