Until Megyn Kelly, no prime-time Fox News anchor had tried to leap from partisan basic cable to the more pedigreed world of network news.
Less than a month into her tenure at NBC, Ms. Kelly and her new employer — which has placed a multimillion-dollar bet on her success — are learning just how daunting the transition can be.
Even before it airs on Sunday, Ms. Kelly’s interview with Alex Jones, the conspiracy-monger and influential voice of the so-called alt-right, a far-right, white nationalist movement, has generated a fierce backlash, just as the anchor is introducing herself to a broader audience.
Parents of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, which Mr. Jones called a hoax, asked NBC to spike the interview, saying it was extremely hurtful for her to offer a platform for Mr. Jones’s views. Ms. Kelly was disinvited from a Sandy Hook charity event and accused by some viewers of chasing ratings by infecting NBC with Fox News-style conservatism.
On Friday, NBC’s Connecticut affiliate said it would not broadcast Ms. Kelly’s show this Sunday, citing community concerns. In an internal memo obtained by The New York Times, the station, WVIT, said that for many of its viewers and employees, including Sandy Hook parents, “those wounds are understandably still so raw.”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Jones’s website, InfoWars, published audio of Ms. Kelly cajoling and flattering her interview subject as she tried to secure his cooperation for the segment. “I’m not looking to portray you as some boogeyman,” Ms. Kelly can be heard saying. Assurances of fair coverage are standard practice in television journalism, where anchors seeking access routinely present their intentions in the best possible light. NBC is standing by Ms. Kelly, urging viewers to withhold judgment until the segment airs.
But the firestorm has been an unwelcome surprise at the network. NBC is banking on Ms. Kelly, who is drawing a salary reported to be about $15 million, as its next flagship star.
Her new show already faced an uphill fight against CBS’s “60 Minutes,” the No. 1 show in television news. And Ms. Kelly is about three months away from taking over the 9 a.m. hour on the “Today” show, a coveted soft-news time slot.
No TV personality wants to face the wrath of families of victims of a school shooting. And Ms. Kelly, who is predominantly known as a face of a conservative-leaning cable news network, does not have a reservoir of good will with NBC’s bigger audience to fall back on.
“It’s Jimmy Fallon tousling Trump’s hair,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center for media and society at the University of Southern California, likening the Kelly-Jones tempest to the moment last fall that is widely considered to have caused lasting damage to Mr. Fallon, NBC’s “Tonight Show” host.