October 26, 2018 / 6:03 PM / 22 days ago

UPDATE 2-NBC says 'Megyn Kelly Today' not returning to the air

(Adds details of Kelly's remarks, contract)

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Television anchor Megyn Kelly's NBC morning show "Megyn Kelly Today" will not return to the air, NBC News said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Earlier this week, Kelly sparked widespread criticism by defending the use of blackface as part of Halloween costumes during remarks on the show.

Kelly apologized for the comments on the air, but the network began airing taped episodes of her normally live show on Thursday.

Kelly, 47, remains an employee of NBC News and "discussions about next steps are continuing," her attorney, Bryan Freedman, said in a statement on Friday. According to a "Today" show report on Friday, NBC executives and Kelly's representatives were in negotiations about her departure and her remaining three-year $69 million contract.

NBC hired Kelly in January 2017 after she rose to fame on 21st Century Fox's cable channel Fox News. At the time, her contract at Fox was up for renewal and she said she was searching for new opportunities.

Next week, other Today show co-anchors will host during the 9 a.m. hour that had belonged to Kelly, NBC News said.

Kelly made her controversial remarks on her show on Tuesday. "What is racist? Because you get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween," she said. "When I was a kid, that was OK as long as you were dressing up like a character."

Kelly apologized on air the next day, saying, "I was wrong, and I am sorry."

NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack condemned the remarks in a staff meeting, according to a report on the network's "Today" morning show on Friday.

Last September, Kelly caused a furor when she interviewed actress Jane Fonda and quizzed her about plastic surgery. She was criticized for interviewing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has said the 2012 Connecticut school shooting a hoax.

Despite her high-profile hiring, Kelly has failed to boost audiences. According to Nielsen ratings data, "Megyn Kelly Today" drew an average audience of 2.3 million in the 12 months to September 2018, compared to 2.8 million for "Today's Take" that was hosted by Al Roker and Tamron Hall and replaced by Kelly's show. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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