Megyn Kelly on NBC launch, Putin interview and 'Today' rumors

An interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin is expected to be the highlight of Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly, the highly anticipated weekly newsmagazine show from the former Fox News star. The sit-down is scheduled to take place a mere two days before Sunday Night debuts June 4.

As Kelly brings an end to her five-month hiatus — a "so-called garden leave," as she jokingly describes it to THR — she's making a high-stakes bet that Putin will come through. He already has committed to be interviewed during Russia's upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where Kelly will moderate a June 2 plenary session.

Regardless of whether the interview takes place, a segment on the strongman will be a focal point of the one-hour premiere, says executive producer David Corvo, allowing viewers to take measure of Kelly in a different milieu from the talking-heads-in-boxes genre in which she built her TV career. (The opening episode also will feature Kelly's interviews with sportscaster Erin Andrews, who survived cervical cancer and a cyberstalking case, and J.D. Vance, author of the best-seller Hillbilly Elegy.)

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Read more: NBC Touts "Sharp, Strong Journalism" of 'Sunday Night With Megyn Kelly' in First Promo

Landing Putin places Kelly, 46, in the top strata of TV interviewers and sets her up for this new phase of her career, following her high-profile exit from Fox. "This is an opportunity to be much more well-rounded as a human being and as an anchor," she says — a contrast to cable news, which is "just like, 'Swim, for the love of God, swim!' It's always drinking from the firehose."

But Corvo and fellow exec producer Liz Cole are being careful not to set the ratings bar too high. "We have no expectation of really being at the top of the heap at all," notes Corvo, who is also NBC's senior executive producer of primetime news (and, with Cole, exec produces NBC's Dateline franchise). "The order of business has to be (a) do really good journalism and stories that people like, and (b) get a buzz going and then see what kind of audience you can collect over time."

Sunday Night enters a noisy news landscape and goes head-to-head with CBS institution 60 Minutes, though that's in reruns over the summer. It arrives three weeks after the May 18 death of Kelly's erstwhile Fox News boss Roger Ailes, whom Kelly had accused of sexual harassment. She declines to comment on his passing, except to say: "I talked about our relationship in my book [Settle for More], the good and the bad."

Sunday Night will precede Kelly's September debut on the 9 a.m. hour of Today, part of a multiplatform deal she signed with NBC in January, reported to be worth some $15 million annually. That gig likely will prove even more of a watercooler conversation piece than her new interview show, given she has no experience in daytime TV. Kelly is quick to deny an ongoing media narrative that she has been angling for a seat on the flagship 7 to 9 a.m. Today, co-anchored by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie.

"I've had my own scrutiny in the press, but this is a weird new kind," she says, noting that Lauer, Guthrie and Andrea Mitchell have been particularly supportive and that she has forged a fast friendship with former NBC News anchor and onetime Today star Tom Brokaw. "We all know the truth," she continues. "Savannah and Matt and I text each other and continue to — as these articles come out — and laugh. Savannah said to me early on, 'Welcome to the NFL. You've got to let it go.' And they're experts at it."

As for plans to interview onetime sparring partner Donald Trump, Kelly demurs. "For this show right now, we're focused on different things," she says. "Listen, I wouldn't say no to a sit-down with President Trump, but it's not necessarily how I want to kick it off. Especially since we're going to be kicking it off with an interview with Vladimir Putin. How many of those big egos can you fit into one show?"

This story first appeared in the May 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.