Shocked by the loss of its top-rated opinion host, Tucker Carlson, Fox News has overhauled its primetime lineup in an effort to reverse its recent ratings declines.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned conservative news channel announced that Jesse Watters, who has hosted a 7pm Eastern show since January 2021, will move into the 8pm slot previously held by Carlson. Watters will continue to co-host “The Five.”
Fox News is also moving Greg Gutfeld’s talk show “Gutfeld!” an hour earlier, at 10 pm Eastern time. The show is often the most watched show on the network among the 25-54 age group coveted by advertisers.
The show, which has been touted as a conservative-leaning late-night comedy alternative, can potentially attract more viewers at an earlier hour.
Laura Ingraham, the conservative host who has occupied the 10 pm ET slot, moves on at 7 pm Sean Hannity’s late-night show remains at 9 pm ET. Fox News @ Night, the newscast that currently airs at midnight, will be moved to 11 pm ET.
The new lineup goes into effect on July 17.
Programming moves are rare at the top-rated cable news channel and were prompted by Carlson’s sudden firing, which came just days after Fox News reached a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over the statements. false information from the network about electoral fraud in 2020. election.
Carlson, an influential right-wing voice whose incendiary comments on race and immigration made him a magnet for controversy, has been ousted amid legal troubles facing Fox News.
The host and the network are being sued by a former producer who alleges she was subjected to a hostile work environment while working on Carlson’s show. Evidence in the Dominion case showed that Carlson made disparaging comments about colleagues and management at Fox News.
But since Carlson’s departure, Fox News has seen a dramatic decline in the 8 pm hour, losing half of the 3 million viewers who tuned in every night. The loss has hurt the rest of Fox News’ programming, even though it remains ahead of its main competitors, CNN and MSNBC.
Watters, 44, has long been popular with Fox News viewers. “The Five,” a roundtable show where he takes center stage, is the network’s most-watched show, with its 7 pm ET show attracting around 2 million viewers.
He got his start on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show, where he conducted ambush interviews with figures addressed by the departed anchor in 2017. Watters often plays his role as the provocateur with irony and is prone to making outrageous statements.
In late 2021, Watters made inflammatory comments about Dr. Anthony Fauci at Turning Point USA’s Americafest, a right-wing conference. He used violent language when he told audience members that they should confront the infectious disease expert with questions about the origins of the coronavirus.
“Now you’re going for the kill shot,” Watters said, according to a video clip of his appearance. “The deadly ambush shot, deadly, because he doesn’t see it coming. This is when you say, ‘Dr. Fauci, you funded risky research at a neglected Chinese lab, the same lab that brought this pandemic to the world.’”
Describing the impact of such a confrontation, Watters said: “Boom! He is dead! Is dead! He has finished!”
The network stood by Watters after Fauci and other critics denounced the comments. “It is more than clear that Jesse Watters was using a metaphor to ask Dr. Fauci hard-hitting questions,” a Fox News statement said at the time.
After Carlson’s departure, Fox News tried various hosts in the 8 p.m. Eastern time slot, but none came close to the ratings Watters drew at 7 p.m.
Fox News has a history of replacing hosts leaving the network. The media industry expected a downturn after O’Reilly was ousted over sexual harassment allegations. But Carlson, a cable news officer when he arrived, ramped up his rhetoric and became a polarizing star.
Fox News continues to pay Carlson, which may keep him off the air through his contract that runs through 2024. He has relaunched his show on Twitter, prompting Fox News to send a cease-and-desist letter saying it is violating his deal that pays him more than $15 million a year.