Celebrity publicists are bailing on ‘Megyn Kelly Today’ (EXCLUSIVE)

In addition to widespread criticism and sluggish ratings, Megyn Kelly is facing another impending crisis. After three weeks on TV, celebrities aren’t rushing to sit down with her.

A number of publicists who spoke to Variety expressed discomfort with the idea of booking their clients in the third hour of “Today,” which has now been retitled “Megyn Kelly Today.” These publicists, however, said they are still eager to take their talent to other blocs of the morning show. “I’m not booking anyone on her show,” says a high-powered publicist, with a roster of big names, who asked for anonymity due to her overall relationship with “Today.” “I literally haven’t pitched anyone even from right out the gate. The buzz that is out there is so bad.”

Another well-known publicist, who represents one of the celebrities who has appeared on Kelly’s show, wasn’t pleased with the interview. “I won’t plan to have others go on,” the publicist said. “None specifically have been offered or asked to, but it’ll be my preference not to.”

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Megyn Kelly through the years
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Megyn Kelly through the years
MEGYN KELLY TODAY -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly on Thursday, September 28, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MEGYN KELLY TODAY -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
MEGYN KELLY TODAY -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly on Monday, September 25, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Hoda Kotb and Megyn Kelly on Friday, September 22, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0742 -- Pictured: Journalist Megyn Kelly arrives for an interview on September 21, 2017 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Megyn Kelly visits 'Extra' at Universal Studios Hollywood on September 19, 2017 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Megyn Kelly is seen on September 19, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 28: Douglas Brunt and journalist Megyn Kelly attend the 17th Annual USTA Foundation Opening Night Gala at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2017 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
TODAY -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly on Monday, August 21, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC)
TODAY -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly on Thursday, July 6, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 26: Journalist Megyn Kelly arrives to discuss Douglas Brunt's new novel, 'Trophy Son,' during Douglas Brunt In Conversation with Megyn Kelly at Free Library of Philadelphia on June 26, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly on Monday, June 23, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 13: Megyn Kelly attends The 2017 Mirror Awards at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 13, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly on Friday, June 9, 2017 -- (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TODAY -- Pictured: Savannah Guthrie, Craig Melvin, Hoda Kotb, and Megyn Kelly on Monday, June 5, 2017 -- (Photo by: Zach Pagano/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA JUNE 2, 2017: NBC News Anchor Megyn Kelly waves at the plenary session at the 2017 St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2017) at the ExpoForum Convention and Exhibition Centre. Mikhail Metzel/TASS Host Photo Agency (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) talk to journalist Megyn Kelly (R) on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) at the Constantine (Konstantinovsky) Palace, Russia, June 1, 2017. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 2, 2017: NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly moderates the plenary session of the 2017 St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2017) held at the ExpoForum Convention and Exhibition Centre. Mikhail Metzel/TASS Host Photo Agency (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Megyn Kelly attends the 2017 NBCUniversal Upfront at Radio City Music Hall on May 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Megyn Kelly attends 'Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between' Costume Institute Gala - Arrivals at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Megyn Kelly attends the 2017 Time 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 25, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
Fox News host Megyn Kelly greets the crowd before interviewing Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, at Calvary Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured: Megyn Kelly -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 24: Megyn Kelly (C), Darth Vader and Stormtroopers from the 501st Legion attend New York Philharmonic's Spring Gala, A John Williams Celebration at David Geffen Hall on May 24, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for New York Philharmonic)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 07: Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly attends the 142nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 07, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Joey Foley/FilmMagic)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0470 -- Pictured: Journalist Megyn Kelly during an interview on May 12, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Megyn Kelly attends the 'Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology' Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Douglas Brunt and Megyn Kelly attend the 102nd White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on April 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
MEGYN KELLY presents: Megyn Kelly (R) and Donald Trump (L) during the FOX special 'MEGYN KELLY presents' airing Tuesday, May 17 (8:00-9:01 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by Eric Liebowitz/FOX via Getty Images)
MEGYN KELLY presents: Megyn Kelly (R) interviews Michael Douglas (L) during the FOX Special MEGYN KELLY presents airing Tuesday, May 17 (8:00-9:01 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by Eric Liebowitz/FOX via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 08: Journalist Megyn Kelly attends Variety's Power Of Women: New York 2016 at Cipriani Midtown on April 8, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Megyn Kelly attends the 7th Annual Women in the World Summit Opening Night at David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on April 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic)
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly waits to begin the Republican presidential candidate debate at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. Candidates from both parties are crisscrossing Iowa, an agricultural state of about 3 million people in the U.S. heartland that will hold the first votes of the 2016 election on Feb. 1. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 28: Moderators Chris Wallace (L) pats on the shoulder of Megyn Kelly (2nd L) as they wait with Bret Baier (R) for the beginning of the Fox News - Google GOP Debate January 28, 2016 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Residents of Iowa will vote for the Republican nominee at the caucuses on February 1. Donald Trump, who is leading most polls in the state, decided not to participate in the debate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Megyn Kelly appears on ABCs 'Good Morning America,' Friday, February 5, 2016. 'Good Morning America' airs Monday Friday (7-9am, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) MEGYN KELLY
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0411 -- Pictured: (l-r) Journalist Megyn Kelly during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on February 4, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Megyn Kelly appears on ABCs 'Good Morning America,' Friday, February 5, 2016. 'Good Morning America' airs Monday Friday (7-9am, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images) MEGYN KELLY
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: News anchor Megyn Kelly speaks onstage during Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit - Day 2 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on October 13, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune/Time Inc)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: TV personality Megyn Kelly attends the 2015 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 21, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: Megyn Kelly attends the 2014 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/FilmMagic)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 080 -- Pictured: (l-r) Political commentator Megyn Kelly during an interview with host Seth Meyers on July 31, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: Megyn Kelly attends at the benefit concert for Army SPC Bryan Dilberain at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts on April 27, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 19: Kid Rock with host Megyn Kelly visits FOX's 'America Live' at FOX Studios on June 19, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - SEPTEMBER 22: Fox anchor Megyn Kelly prepares for the Fox News/Google GOP Debate at the Orange County Convention Center on September 22, 2011 in Orlando, Florida. The debate features the nine Republican candidates two days before the Florida straw poll. (Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Megyn Kelly, host of America Live on set at Fox News studios in New York. Fox News Channel celebrated its 15th anniversary on the air on October 7th.
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Celebrities are a sweet spot for daytime TV. Katie Couric launched her talk show on ABC in 2012 with a gushy interview with Jessica Simpson, who revealed her post-baby body for the moms watching at home. Meredith Vieira landed Jennifer Lopez in 2014. And despite those big gets, viewers still didn’t tune in, which led both shows to being cancelled after two years.

“Ellen,” “Live with Kelly and Ryan” (which goes up directly against “Megyn Kelly”) and “The View” frequently lure star-studded guests. Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, who appear on the fourth hour of “Today,” have attracted the likes of Tyler Perry, Andrew Garfield, Brooke Shields, Judd Apatow and “Dear Evan Hansen” lead Ben Platt in recent months.

Over the summer, sources tell Variety that producers from Kelly’s show made a trip to Los Angeles to sell the big publicity firms on the new hour of “Today,” promising a lighter, more inspirational Kelly that viewers hadn’t seen before. However, according to an insider who attended one of the meetings, the team didn’t seem to have a clear direction of the show they were pitching. She didn’t fit into a box like Ellen DeGeneres or Dr. Oz. And as a result, not too many celebrities jumped onboard.

 

 

Fast-forward to the first episode. Kelly surprised audiences when she debuted on Sept. 25, swearing off politics entirely. Instead, she sat down with the cast of NBC’s “Will & Grace.”

That interview grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons. Kelly made an ill-received joke about a super fan’s sexual orientation, which led actress Debra Messing to post on Instagram that she was “dismayed” by Kelly’s remarks and regretted going on her show. Two days later, Kelly offended Jane Fonda with an off-putting question about her refusal to talk about plastic surgery. (“We really want to talk about that right now?” Fonda huffed, seated next to her co-star Robert Redford.)

Publicists for Messing and Fonda declined to comment.

Outside of other actors on the NBC payroll—the casts of “This is Us,” the women of “SaturdayNight Live,” Elizabeth Hurley who stars on E!’s “The Royals,” as well as Edie Falco (“Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders”)—Kelly’s show has lacked the kind of star power that Oprah used to display. Part of what made Winfrey (who Kelly has cited as a model for her show) the queen of daytime was her ability to mix segments about real people and Hollywood all in one hour.

On a recent episode, Kelly opened with a splashy exclusive—Lauren Sivan, who for the first time on TV, told her harrowing story about how she was forced to watch mogul Harvey Weinstein masturbate in front of her in a restaurant. After that powerful interview, Kelly had lined up her colleague Savannah Guthrie, who was plugging her children’s book “Princesses Wear Pants.” On other days, Kelly’s show hasn’t had any celebrity guests, instead focusing on human interest and lifestyle segments. And for part of this week, Kelly was joined by an impromptu sidekick: Al Roker, who used to steer the hour before Kelly took over.

A spokesperson for NBC denies that “Megyn Kelly Today” is having trouble securing guests. “We have celebrities booked for weeks and months to come,” a network rep said. When asked by Variety for specific names coming up, NBC listed Miles Teller, Goldie Hawn and “SNL’s” Alec Baldwin.

Watch Megyn Kelly's controversial moment from her first episode:
 

In launching a talk show, Kelly faces a challenge of a genre that in recent years has had far more misses than hits. Aside from that, there’s the other elephant in the room — Kelly carries heavy baggage from her years as the star anchor of Fox News, where she extolled her political views and shot up to superstardom battling with then-candidate Donald Trump.

One publicist said they didn’t want their client to schmooze with Kelly, because her brand is too alienating, as a result of her association to the conservative news network. “I don’t even know if it’s as much her as it is Fox News,” the publicist said. “Because she came from Fox News, she was set up for failure because the industry is so polarized now and no one wants to touch anything associated with Trump.”

Insiders on Kelly’s show push back against the notion that she hasn’t transitioned from cable news into a seasoned celebrity questioner, pointing to segments she’s done with Russell Brand, Isla Fisher and Morgan Freeman. Power publicist Stan Rosenfield, who represents Freeman, told Variety: “Morgan had a very good experience on the show and looks forward to returning.”

On TV, Brand spoke glowingly of Kelly. However, the interview showcased one of the hazards of steering clear of politics when there are so many intersections with pop culture nowadays. Kelly missed the opportunity to ask the comedian and author about his big Twitter feud with Donald Trump. An hour later, Brand appeared on “The View” where he unloaded on the president.

Other publicists say they are still waiting to deliver a verdict. “I am in the middle at the moment, leaning towards not booking for now,” said one publicity veteran who runs a PR company. “What I have seen so far hasn’t been great. I am open to see how she does and if there is improvement, then I would more likely book. I am just not sure what type of celeb interviewer she is. She’s awkward at the moment.”

Historically, the “Today” booking team has secured guests for all four hours of the NBC morning juggernaut. While no new talent bookers were hired for “Megyn Kelly Today,” certain team members’ roles were shifted to focus solely on the show, giving Hollywood publicists the option to turn down offers for their clients to appear on Kelly’s specific hour.

It’s not helping that the ratings for Kelly’s show have been lagging. Though she had a slight spike at the start of her third week, the 9 a.m. hour of “Today” with Kelly is down 30% from last year when “Today’s Take” with Tamron Hall and Roker filled the hour. But all programs, including competitor “Live With Kelly and Ryan,” are down in double digits from last year because of the high interest in the 2016 presidential election. Still, “Live” is beating “Megyn Kelly” by 17% in the national rating.

“She posted her highest ratings yet in the key demo Monday after the second week on the air,” the NBC spokesperson said. “Everyone knows ratings always fluctuate at the start of a new show.”

Meanwhile, others say that NBC deserves some of the blame for the show’s inauspicious start, by not creating a vehicle that plays to Kelly’s strengths. The show’s executive producer, Jackie Levin, was hand-picked by NBC News president Noah Oppenheimer. Her previous specialty at “Today” was booking books – not celebrities. (Cases in point: Brand and Fisher both sat down with Kelly to promote their new books.) Plus, the network built a live-studio audience, which may have set expectations too high and created a strange disconnect between “Megyn Kelly Today” and the other hours of the broadcast.

NBC hasn’t enlisted Kelly on breaking news coverage, which is what turned her into a household name on Fox News. At her last job, Kelly stunned as a highly-skilled political commentator, who had no problem taking on Karl Rove, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich.

After the Las Vegas massacre, Kelly’s show was preempted and she didn’t appear on TV at all, though she was prepared to go on that day. NBC made the decision to keep rolling coverage with co-hosts Matt Lauer and Guthrie, without having Kelly join them at the anchor’s desk. An NBC rep says that “it’s different every time” and Kelly will be asked to cover breaking news in the future.

An industry insider close to Kelly says she was ready for the negative reviews in her early days. Kelly is said to believe that her astronomical salary splashed in the press—which has been reported as $17 million a year—has made her an easy target. And, added the source, Kelly thinks some of the criticism is sexist.

“Of course, there are going to be kinks in the first weeks, but people are being negative and unfair,” the source said, comparing her to coverage to other new talk show hosts. “[Stephen] Colbert got killed his first week and first month.”

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