Nexstar’s cable channel NewsNation will get its first exclusive presidential primary debate and has tapped former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly to moderate.
Nexstar announced Thursday that the debate, set for Dec. 6 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., will also air on the CW, the broadcast network it acquired last year. In Los Angeles, it will be carried on KTLA-TV Channel 5 in addition to NewsNation.
Kelly will moderate the event alongside Elizabeth Vargas, who joined NewsNation as an anchor earlier this year, and Eliana Johnson.
The debate will be a return to TV news for Kelly, who became a major star at Fox News during her run from 2004 to 2017. Her sharp questioning of former President Trump in the first 2016 Republican primary debate — held in August 2015 — angered the candidate. Kelly’s stature was raised even more as the event scored 24 million viewers, the largest audience ever for a primary debate.
The lawyer-turned-journalist is also one of the women who spoke out about sexual harassment at Fox News, leading to the ouster of its founding chief executive, Roger Ailes.
Kelly left Fox News in 2017 for NBC News, where she was given a primetime magazine show and her own hour on the morning franchise “Today.” Her stint was over in two years after she made on-air remarks defending the use of blackface as a Halloween costume. Despite an apology, she was forced out with $30 million left on her contract.
Kelly currently has a daily program on SiriusXM. She recently signed a new multiyear deal with the satellite radio provider. She also hosts her own podcast, which has recently delivered news-making interviews with Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his top rival for the Republican nomination. She frequently delivers her opinions on social media platforms.
Kelly has privately said she is happy with her current projects and has no desire to return to daily TV. But a major national news event will likely put her back in the conversation about a future role.
Landing the debate is a coup for NewsNation, which launched in 2020 with the aim of being an opinion-free alternative to CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. The network has been vying for one of the events since the campaign season began. While its ratings are a fraction of its established competitors, Nexstar is sticking with the venture that is said to be profitable.
Trump, who is leading in the polls for the 2024 Republican nomination, has not appeared in the three primary debates held so far, two of which have aired on Fox News and one on NBC.
But the ratings have been surprisingly strong, with 12.8 million viewers for the first event on Aug. 23 and around 9 million viewers for the second on Sept. 27. Nielsen ratings for NBC’s event, held Wednesday night in Miami, will be available later Thursday.
Based on interest for the previous candidate meetings, NewsNation will likely get the largest audience in its short history from its debate. It will also get wide exposure through clips shown on other networks.