What’s happened to Gabriel Sherman? There was a time when I considered him one of the most dangerous media writers in America for articles like this. Back then nobody complained about Sherman’s writing being inaccurate or biased. They just marveled at all details.
But ever since Sherman’s FNC book on Roger Ailes came out (some would argue that it really began before that point) his writing has taken on more of a negative slant. How much of that slant is actual real negative dirt and how much of it is BS is hard to quantify. If you listen to people like Joe Concha it’s all mostly BS. But I’ve tried to give the benefit of the doubt when feasible.
But Sherman’s latest article has me non-plussed to say the least. It takes what can only be described as a very negative slant on Megyn Kelly’s special and what it means for her.
Megyn Kelly’s much-publicized broadcast special with Donald Trump was supposed to launch the Fox News star into the stratosphere of television anchordom. Instead, the widely panned show seems to have achieved the opposite result: It exposed the extent of her limited mainstream appeal. Kelly drew just 4.8 million viewers on Tuesday night, a number television executives say is a disappointment by any measure. Three senior executives I spoke with say an audience of 9 million would have been a success. “Not good for her at all,” was how one insider put it.
In the days since, Kelly has been working to contain the fallout. She took aim at critics on her cable show Wednesday night by deploying an age-old Fox News tactic: claiming the backlash was a result of liberal media bias. But behind the scenes, she is said to be worried about the response. “She’s very upset with the show reaction, and in hindsight with how it was produced,” one Fox veteran told me.
The question for Kelly and her agents at CAA is where to go from here. Before the special, she had maneuvered herself into a position of significant leverage over her boss Roger Ailes and seemed poised to land either a new deal from Fox with a salary in the $25 million range or a plum job at another network. Industry sources said Ailes couldn’t afford to lose Kelly. Now her advantage looks smaller — a turn of events that surely pleases Ailes. According to one Fox insider, Ailes was heard “snickering” in a meeting yesterday when the topic of Kelly’s special came up in conversation. (Ailes’s spokesperson Irena Briganti did not respond to a request for comment.)
There’s just so much that’s demonstrably wrong about Sherman’s piece, regardless of what his sources are saying.
For starters one special, whether it hit it out of the park ratings wise or not…and there are valid arguments to be had on both sides of that issue…isn’t going to decide Kelly’s fate for more specials nor is it going to materially impact Kelly’s shot at getting a mega deal from FNC. You don’t achieve Barbara Walters status based on a single special. It would take multiple specials over years to either get there or not get there.
Second, Kelly and FNC would be playing a long game. Unless the special was an out and out total disaster…and say what you will about the quality of the special and the guests and the interviews…it didn’t come close to that level of failure…there was little need to worry about the reaction from a single special. Kelly can only be judged on a body of work and you don’t get there based on a solitary special.
Third, you don’t build up a brand on another network on the back of just one special so any talk about having a sup-par ratings special (regardless of whether that’s what happened or not) expose “the extent of her limited mainstream appeal” is assinine. Maybe Kelly really does have limited mainstream appeal? Sure, it’s possible. But the sample size is way too small to make such a pronouncement and have it be viewed as anything other than negative spin.
Fourth, Kelly taking on her critics is not only fair but probably expected because this kind of instant reaction short game “you’re a failure if you don’t succeed overwhelmingly on the first try” TV world we exist in belies the fact that this is a long play. Some of the criticism leveled at Kelly, particularly over the Trump interview, shows a complete lack of understanding for what this special was supposed to be in the first place. It was never going to be the “hard hitting” style the Kelly File format is known for nor was it going to be a repeat of the first debate. That’s not why you do these kinds of specials.
People say that Kelly is angling for Oprah/Barbara territory. Uh…news flash…that territory is the territory of the softball interview. It’s about thoughtful semi-probing questions. It’s rarely about going for the jugular. People forget that both Walters and Oprah had built up reputations for big gets but mostly puffy banal interviews in their specials.
So when I see a Sherman article like this I roll my eyes. This article puts what can only be described as an un-charitable negative spin on a story that doesn’t justify it at all.
For their part, Kelly’s team doesn’t seem eager to talk about the program. When I called her CAA agent Matt DelPiano to ask him about the special, he hung up.
Maybe they didn’t want to talk to someone who was going to over negatively spin a story. Reading this article, I’d say they were probably justified.