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Megyn Kelly's Jane Fonda Jab May Cost 'Today' Star Bookings

The Hollywood Reporter logo The Hollywood Reporter 1/24/2018 Marisa Guthrie
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(Video provided by TODAY)

Is Megyn Kelly’s Monday morning take-down of Jane Fonda – in which Kelly invoked Fonda’s Vietnam-era Hanoi Jane sobriquet – the first of more provocations? Or was it a one-off?

Those close to Kelly tell The Hollywood Reporter that she had had enough of Fonda’s insults stemming from an interview on Megyn Kelly Today back in September, during the first week of Kelly’s show. That’s when Fonda abruptly shut down Kelly’s questions about plastic surgery, a topic Fonda has openly discussed in past media appearances.

The tipping point was a Jan. 20 interview Fonda did with Variety in which she said she was “stunned” by the question, asserting that it “showed that [Kelly] is not that good an interviewer.” She added that she would come back on Kelly’s show “if she comes around and learns her stuff.”

Kelly prepared the script over the weekend and delivered it during the final minutes of Monday’s show. NBC News management was aware of her impending remarks, sources tell THR.

Reaction inside and outside NBC News was swift and extreme. The View panelists – and guest host Ann Curry – tore Kelly apart. Joy Behar called her a “b-tch”; minutes later, she apologized, rescinding the epithet. Wendy Williams accused Kelly of doing “it for ratings.” Inside NBC News, the characterizations included “outrageous” and “awful.” One person questioned the wisdom of using NBC News as a platform to “settle a personal score.”

In this combination photo, Jane Fonda appears at the 2017 ACLU SoCal's Bill of Rights Dinner in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 3, 2017, left, and Megyn Kelly poses on the set of her new show, "Megyn Kelly Today" in New York on Sept, 21, 2017. Kelly says Jane Fonda "has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive" after the actress criticized her for bringing up the subject of plastic surgery in an interview last September. Fonda glared at Kelly and objected to the topic and, in an interview with Variety published over the weekend, called the question inappropriate and said she was stunned it was brought up. Kelly noted Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, that Fonda had discussed the topic of her own surgery in the past (Photos by Richard Shotwell, left, Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) © The Associated Press In this combination photo, Jane Fonda appears at the 2017 ACLU SoCal's Bill of Rights Dinner in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 3, 2017, left, and Megyn Kelly poses on the set of her new show, "Megyn Kelly Today" in New York on Sept, 21, 2017. Kelly says Jane Fonda "has no business lecturing anyone on what qualifies as offensive" after the actress criticized her for bringing up the subject of plastic surgery in an interview last September. Fonda glared at Kelly and objected to the topic and, in an interview with Variety published over the weekend, called the question inappropriate and said she was stunned it was brought up. Kelly noted Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, that Fonda had discussed the topic of her own surgery in the past (Photos by Richard Shotwell, left, Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) Multiple talent representatives, none of whom would talk on the record, told THR that the Fonda monologue has made them think twice about booking their clients on Megyn Kelly Today. Others said it was the last straw. “Actors don’t trust her,” said one. On Thursday, gymnast Aly Raisman and "Fight Song" singer-songwriter Rachel Platten are booked for an interview. 

Of course, in the era of MeToo, journalists have been emboldened to ask tougher questions of celebrities on red carpets and beyond. (An NBC News representative says Kelly has not lost any bookings since Monday’s show.)

Kelly's show has evolved away from the celebrity-driven vehicle it may have appeared to be in week one, when the NBCUniversal synergy machine stocked Megyn Kelly Today with actors, the vast majority promoting NBCUniversal properties at the beginning of the new TV season.

Megyn Kelly on Monday, January 22, 2018 © (Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images) Megyn Kelly on Monday, January 22, 2018 But since the Harvey Weinstein story broke in early October, Kelly – who was a central voice in the harassment scandal that brought down Fox News CEO Roger Ailes – has forcefully taken up the harassment beat. So much so that days after Matt Lauer was fired from Today amid sexual harassment complaints, she invited Lauer and his accusers on her show – something that raised eyebrows inside NBC News at the time.

But going all in on the scourge of harassment allegations that have rocked Hollywood, the media and beyond has allowed Kelly to appeal to morning TV’s largely female demographic, while not appearing to go soft. (Megyn Kelly Today is averaging close to three million viewers and is up year-over-year in key female demographics.)

"It's perfect for her," notes TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall. 

With the Fonda throw-down – during which Kelly dredged up the actress's controversial anti-war activism, including Fonda's statements about American POWs –Kelly once again waded into America's culture wars. 

“Of all the things that she’s staked her career on, likeability is not a factor," adds Tyndall. "What this tells me is that Megyn is trying to carve out the niche for herself, which is 'I’m going to be harder, I’m going to be the hard person at 9.' She is saying, 'I will not back away from asking tough questions even if it makes me look like a bully or rude or crossing a line. It’s better that I have the reputation for asking tough questions.'"

Related slideshow: Megyn Kelly through the years (via Photo Services)

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