Nine weeks after canceling Tucker Carlson, FOX News announces his replacement — and a new prime-time schedule

Exactly nine weeks after FOX News canceled its leading prime-time host, Tucker Carlson, FOX News yesterday finally announced his replacement along with a new Mon–Fri evening schedule.  Moving from 7 P.M. (all times E.T.) into Carlson's old 8 P.M. slot starting July 17 will be Jesse Watters.  The other major change in the schedule is Greg Gutfeld's irreverent, comedy-infused late-night talk show Gutfeld! moving into prime time at 10 P.M.

This is a first in the 43-year-long history of cable news television: a comedy program gaining a foothold in weeknight prime time — generally considered 8–11 P.M.  It may signal a new approach at FOX News, which recently began programming a new hour-long program with a lighter touch on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 P.M.  Not to mention the more frequent appearances on political shows by FOX News contributors and hosts like comedians Jimmy Failla, Kat Timpf, and George Murdoch (the former wrestler better known by his ring/stage name Tyrus).

Rounding out FNC's nighttime schedule starting later this month is Laura Ingraham's show The Ingraham Angle, which is moving from 10 P.M. to 7 P.M., technically pre–prime time.  The only time slot to remain unchanged is the 9 P.M. hour, which Sean Hannity has hosted at that time since the fall of 2017.  Hannity has been a fixture in prime time on FOX News since October 1996, when the channel launched.

Critics of FOX News predicted dire consequences for the channel when the plug was suddenly pulled on Carlson's show on April 24.  A brief rise in the ratings was experienced by the fourth, also-ran conservative cable channel Newsmax.  Meanwhile, perennial loser CNN and MSNBC, which has occasionally given individual FNC shows some competition, for a time both enjoyed a larger share of the percentage of people watching cable news.

But as has happened in the ratings upheavals following radical schedule changes in the past, it didn't take long for FOX News to right the ship.  Last Thursday, Forbes reported the current picture in an article titled "Fox News Reclaims Top Primetime Spot."  In fact, FOX News had never relinquished its lead in the 24-hour 6 A.M. to 6 A.M. ratings, even after Carlson's departure put a temporary dent in the number of the channel's prime-time viewers.

Jesse Watters, Dec. 20, 2021 by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.

The elevation of Jesse Watters to Carlson's old 8 P.M. slot should solidify FOX News's prime-time lead going forward.  Watters, an affable, reliable conservative, is a talented and creative broadcaster who steadily moved up the ranks at FOX News, finally landing a 7 P.M. nightly show in 2021.  He has done well in the all-important ratings at that hour.  He often breaks important stories and offers relatively probing interviews and commentary on controversial topics.  Many predicted that he could well be Carlson's heir apparent.  His program, in this writer's opinion, has the potential of becoming appointment television, as was Carlson's.

Watters, by the way, is also a co-host of The Five, Fox News's consistent #1 program that airs weeknights at 5 P.M.  It's a live, give-and take hour pitting four conservatives against one liberal — kind of like ABC News's The View in reverse.  Even though The Five is on three hours before the start of prime time, it has emerged as the most-watched program in all of cable television news.  Greg Gutfeld is also a regular co-host on the show.

Tucker Carlson, as most readers know by now, has started a new "show," as it were, Tucker on Twitter, releasing six episodes on Elon Musk's social media platform so far.  Early predictions that he would trump (no pun intended) his former employer are slowly coming down to Earth.  Carlson's episode one was supposedly viewed by almost 120 million people.  Episode 6 clocked in at 28 million.  However, analysis, as in Mediaite's "Was Tucker Carlson's New Twitter Show Actually Watched By 114 Million People?," has questioned the metrics to begin with.  (Did one out of every two adults in the U.S. actually watch Carlson's first show on Twitter?)  Another analysis appears in "Tucker Carlson's Twitter Ratings Seem Like Good News But There's One Major Catch," published at The Street.

Even more analysts are starting to examine the sticky and unresolved legal standoff between Carlson and FOX News over the details of his contract with the channel.  For discussion, see Stephen L  Carter's "Tucker Carlson's Fox defense crumbled when he took millions," originally published at Bloomberg but available to read free here at Eagle Tribune.

The last major discussion of FOX News's prime-time schedule plans prior to yesterday took place on May 17–19, after Matt Drudge claimed in an exclusive that Sean Hannity would be moving into Carlson's slot at 8 P.M.  I expressed skepticism of the veracity of this report in two posts at American Thinker on May 18 here and on May 19 here, which deconstructed how the one-time reliable conservative muckraker Matt Drudge cleverly manipulated the mainstream media to reinforce his questionable news scoop — and generated millions of hits to his site in the process.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, predictions on where all of this will wind up are odious.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who has covered national politics and the politics and economics of health care, popular culture, and media for over five decades.  His web page with links to his work is  Peter's extensive American Thinker archive:  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.

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