"She has learned television news very quickly," co-anchor… (Helayne Seidman For The…)
NEW YORK -- It's just after 10:30 Monday morning on "America's Newsroom," and Megyn Kelly has bounced from riots in Paris to storms in the Midwest, from a truck-and-train collision to a strange interview about the 1969 Manson family murders with the sister of slain actress Sharon Tate.
But the Fox News anchor doesn't seem truly animated until senior producer Tom Lowell says in her ear: "Megyn, remember the bee story? Think you can ad-lib us a tease here?"
Kelly looks into the camera and exclaims: "Imagine what happened when you're driving by that truck and out come bees! Tens of thousands of bees!"
She is causing quite the buzz herself. Four years ago, Kelly was a Washington lawyer pleading with WJLA-TV for part-time work. Now she's the co-anchor of two Fox shows, including a new 5 p.m. hour on the presidential campaign.
"When I was practicing law and had to do these 13-, 14-, 16-hour days, I was miserable," she says. Now, "you get off the set, you have that post-show high."
Most of the stars at Fox are highly opinionated men. Kelly, 37, is a former legal affairs correspondent who mostly keeps her views out of her on-air work. That may be a more circuitous path to cable stardom, but it is becoming more common.
MSNBC has given political shows in recent weeks to NBC correspondents Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory, who also fills in on "Today." CNN has given programs to former CBS correspondent John Roberts and former NBC correspondent Campbell Brown, and is tapping reporter John King as a substitute anchor. They all serve up analysis but stop short of commentary.
What makes Kelly unusual is the sheer speed of her ascent. "She has learned television news very quickly," says Bill Hemmer, her co-anchor. "She cares about the news, she studies it, and she has a wicked sense of humor. There is a chemistry that's required, this Fred-and-Ginger dance you have to perform every day on the fly."
Kelly, who grew up in an Albany, N.Y., suburb, was practicing law in Chicago -- securities law, contract disputes and the like -- when she took some journalism classes and served an internship at the NBC station in town. After moving to Washington in 2003, she reduced her legal load and persuaded WJLA, the ABC affiliate, to give her reporting assignments a couple of days a week.
Within a year, Kelly sent Fox a tape, which immediately impressed Brit Hume, the Washington managing editor, and his wife Kim, then the bureau chief.
"Here is this woman who was strikingly attractive but has tremendous air presence and a very strong voice," Hume says. "We were knocked out. It was screamingly obvious that this was someone with tremendous potential."
What's more, says Hume, "she seemed to get what we've talked about with 'fair and balanced news' . . . She came in believing there was a left bias in the news. That's not common." He quickly created an opening for her.
As a Washington correspondent, Kelly specialized in legal issues and was an early skeptic of the sexual-assault charges against the Duke lacrosse players who were ultimately exonerated. She enjoyed reporting but "thought it would be fun to have a job where you could show a little bit more personality."
Her first attempt was nervously filling in as the host of Geraldo Rivera's weekend show: "I thought, 'Oh my God, it's so cool.' " Kelly sees parallels to the lawyer's trade: giving a presentation, keeping it concise, maintaining energy and trying not to let them see you sweat.
Thirteen months ago, Fox executives summoned her to New York for a new mid-morning show that replaced "Fox News Live." Ratings are up 15 percent since then.
Did good looks play a role in the promotion? Kelly was voted a "hottie" in a contest on the Fishbowl DC Web site, and some bloggers have blathered on about her appearance, with one calling her "Leggy Meggy." YouTube features a series of videos such as "Hot Collection of Megyn Kelly" and one simply titled "Leather Boots & Skirt." On the morning show, Fox puts her on an open set that showcases her long legs.
But Kelly says success hinges on inner beauty. Still, she says, "In the industry, women have a hard time because there's an assumption that maybe you've moved up for reasons other than your mind."
Fox's morning show has what's known as a high story count, forcing anchors to race from one item to the next. Kelly recalls Lowell saying they would try launching the program as "America's Newsroom on crack," and later try a version on Valium, but "we never got off the crack."
Kelly can be a tad on the bubbly side, saying things on the air like "hiya" and "see you, guys." As a nervous flier, she told an airline safety expert last month: "You're freaking me out a little bit."