NEW YORK — Ask Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly how her new prime-time program will differ from the edgy news show she had been hosting in the afternoon and she says that “it’s going to be dark out.”
The joke has a serious point.
Don’t expect Kelly to turn into a fire-breathing partisan because she has more exclusive real estate.
“If you watch O’Reilly, you hear a lot about what Bill O’Reilly thinks,” she said. “Sean Hannity, same thing. But you’re not going to hear what I think.”
“The Kelly File” is the linchpin to the first overhaul of Fox’s prime-time lineup since 2002, a century in television time.
Starting Monday, Hannity moved back an hour to 10 p.m. to make room for Kelly at 9, and Greta Van Susteren shifts to 7 p.m. Shepard Smith is now a roving news anchor making appearances throughout the evening.
At the time of the last schedule change, when Van Susteren moved to Fox from CNN, the now 42-year-old Kelly was an unhappy Washington lawyer. She began reporting news for a local Washington station on weekends in 2003. A year after that, she was noticed and hired by Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
She cut her maternity leave short following the July 23 birth of her third child so “The Kelly File” could start Monday, the 17th anniversary of the Fox News launch.
Kelly said she hasn’t been pressured to make changes for the move into the evening, where a larger audience is usually available. Her afternoon show averaged 1.2 million viewers a day before her maternity leave, while Hannity reached 1.9 million at 9 p.m.
“I’ve never wanted to be an opinion host, and Roger Ailes hasn’t wanted me to be an opinion host,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be very successful anyway. I’m not an ideologue, and I think you have to be to be successful in a prime-time opinion-based show. I think I’m too moderate and reasonable.”
Kelly has cultivated an image of speaking up in ways that run counter to Fox’s image. She marched off the set on Election Night to interview Fox’s numbers guy, minimizing the embarrassment when Karl Rove questioned the declaration that President Barack Obama had won re-election. Her legal training helped Fox correct, quicker than rivals, an initially wrong report on the U.S. Supreme Court’s health care decision. She expressed disgust at a man’s suggestion that children of working mothers don’t fare as well as children with stay-at-home moms.
Yet on a day-to-day basis, the stories that she selects and emphasizes have made her show one that Fox’s primarily Republican audience can feel comfortable with.
“What Megyn has done for us is create a new style of hosting and a new style of doing a show,” said Bill Shine, Fox’s executive vice president for programming. “I think she’s fair, she’s nice. But I think if you’re going to try to BS her ... if she smells it and she catches it, she’s going to call you on it.”
With a less strident approach at 9 p.m., Fox’s hope is to attract some younger viewers, maybe some women.
“I don’t want to imply that (the schedule change) is being done to correct a negative,” he said. “It’s being done because we felt with these changes we would remain No. 1 and possibly be No. 1 by a larger margin.”
Kelly said her evening show will be sharper, faster and to the point. She is keeping Tom Lowell, her executive producer when she was on the 1 to 3 p.m. shift, in the same role. The daytime show often used news stories as launching points for discussions with two or three commentators.
She hopes the new schedule will be more family-friendly, even if it requires her to anchor a live show at 9 p.m.
She can work from home in the morning and head to the office in the afternoon. It means her husband gets the three kids, ages 4 and under, during the cranky hours when they’re getting ready for bed.
On her second day back at work last week, having adjustment problems, she brought baby Thatcher (and a baby sitter) in with her. Despite the short maternity leave, she said she’s happy to be back.
“I don’t miss being on the air,” she said. “But there is a part of me that is not present when I’m on maternity leave and it’s good to see that part of me return when I go back to work. My husband said he could hear the vibrancy in my voice.”
PHOTO: Megyn Kelly, host of Fox News Channel's "The Kelly Files," rehearses for the debut of her new show, in New York, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. Her program is the linchpin to the first overhaul of Fox's prime-time lineup since 2002, or about a century in television time. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)