Megyn Kelly's Donald Trump interview draws 4.8M viewers

Stephen Battaglio
Los Angeles Times

New York — Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly's first prime-time special — which included a much-anticipated sit-down with Donald Trump — drew 4.8 million viewers on the Fox broadcast network Tuesday.

The figure from Nielsen doesn't approach the blockbuster number Trump has pulled in during his cable news debate appearances, which led to his becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. But the audience figure nearly doubles what Kelly draws on an average night with her Fox News Channel program "The Kelly File." It was 1 million below Fox's prime-time season average of 5.8 million viewers — a figure that includes big-hit entertainment programs such as "Empire."

The number is likely high enough to make future Kelly hours an occasional program alternative for the Fox broadcast network's lineup next season, as they are far cheaper to produce than entertainment shows.

More specials also would likely help Fox News keep Kelly when the division negotiates a new contract with her. She is signed through mid-2017, and her services are coveted by rival networks.

Kelly's first special also featured interviews with transgender actress Laverne Cox, actor Michael Douglas and O.J. Simpson defense lawyer Robert Shapiro.

To attract an audience, the program had to overcome the fact that viewers are not accustomed to finding news magazines on the Fox broadcast network. Fox News Channel is a wholly separate operation on cable.

"Megyn Kelly Presents" ranked third in the 8 p.m. hour, finishing behind CBS' "NCIS" (17.6 million) and NBC's "The Voice" (8.9 million). It did pull a much larger audience than Fox's new reality show, which followed it at 9 p.m. That program, "Coupled," averaged 1.9 million viewers.

Kelly's special also averaged 1.5 million viewers in the 25-to-54 age group that advertisers seek with news programming. The figure is 26 percent higher than what Fox has pulled in the time period with its 8 p.m. sitcom "New Girl."

Fox News heavily promoted the special, making Kelly available for numerous talk show interviews and feature stories. Her talk with Trump was billed as a big TV event as it came after months of the candidate's insulting the anchor on social media. Trump was rankled by Kelly's questions at the first Republican primary debate in August about his past treatment of women.

Beyond the issues stemming from the debate, the interview had limited news value as it was taped more than a week ago and Trump has been engulfed in other controversies since then that were not addressed.

Kelly has built her reputation as a strong news interviewer in live situations and had looked to the special as being a chance to do softer, human-interest style chats in the tradition of Barbara Walters. Walters' longtime executive producer, Bill Geddie, oversaw the making of the special.