Megyn Kelly will not return to Today, NBC News announced on Friday, as the network began negotiations over exit terms with the controversial news personality.
The network issued a statement saying that starting on Monday, Today co-anchors will take over the 9am hour that Kelly has hosted for a year.
NBC News President Noah Oppenheim informed the show’s staff of the decision to cancel Megyn Kelly Today shortly before the announcement.
The action followed comments Kelly made this week in which she suggested it was not inappropriate for white people to dress in blackface on Halloween. The comments triggered a public backlash and criticism from her colleagues at the network.
“Megyn remains an employee of NBC News and discussions about next steps are continuing,” Kelly’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, said in a statement.
But Kelly’s status at NBC News is a technicality, and she will not appear on the network’s air again as a host, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorised to comment. The network and Freedman are working on terms of Kelly’s exit from the company, which could be finalised as soon as this weekend, those people said.
Kelly is said to have about $48 million (Dh176.2 million) left on the contract she signed in early 2017.
The split marks a stunning flame-out for the highest-paid personality in television news. Though other high-profile news anchors have had difficulty switching networks or taking on new programmes, Kelly fell breathtakingly hard and fast.
She joined NBC News in April 2017 after becoming a breakout star as a prime-time host on Fox News, where she spent 12 years and demonstrated an independent streak among the mostly conservative lineup on the Rupert Murdoch-owned cable network.
But Kelly’s popularity at Fox News — where personalities can thrive with polarising viewpoints — failed to connect with Today show audiences who tend to view the programme’s co-hosts as family members.
Kelly lost about a quarter of the audience of 25- to 54-year-olds who had been watching the 9am hour of Today when it was co-hosted by Al Roker and Tamron Hall. The age group is the target advertisers most want to reach with news programming.
Kelly’s low audience levels and high cost cut deeply into the profitability of the Today hour, ultimately making her vulnerable after her comments about the use of blackface on Halloween.
“What is racist?” Kelly asked. “You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as a character.”
She made the comments on her Tuesday programme and apologised on Wednesday. But she has since been off Megyn Kelly Today, with the network running previously recorded episodes.
The remarks also a brought swift rebuke from colleagues.
“The fact is, while she apologised to the staff, she owes a bigger apology to folks of colour around the country,” longtime Today personality Roker said on the programme.