Fox News has settled on its new primetime lineup, promoting Jesse Watters to the 8 p.m. slot vacated by the abrupt firing of Tucker Carlson, pushing the “Gutfeld!” late-night juggernaut an hour earlier to 10 p.m. and putting Trace Gallagher to the 11 p.m. hour, the network announced Monday.
Also on the movie is Laura Ingraham, whose “Ingraham Angle” has solidly won the 10 p.m. spot since its 2017 debut, with a shift to 7 p.m. to kick off the weeknight primetime lineup, taking over Watters’ most recent start time. Fox did not announce who might take over the midnight hour that Gallagher will be vacating.
“Fox News Channel has been America’s destination for news and analysis for more than 21 years and we are thrilled to debut a new lineup,” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said. “The unique perspectives of Laura Ingraham, Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity, and Greg Gutfeld will ensure our viewers have access to unrivaled coverage from our best-in-class team for years to come.”
Promoting “Jesse Watters Primetime” from 7 p.m. – where it was launched in January 2022 – to 8 p.m. would hew to Fox News’ tradition of successfully closing ranks when a top host goes poof, as Lachlan Murdoch himself was happy to point out last month, citing high-profile exits of Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Glenn Beck. “We’ve done this before, right?” he said at the time.
But this reshuffle is not without its risks and tradeoffs. Like Carlson before him, Watters’ comments in recent months on sensitive topics like race and gender identity have created the sort of mini-controversies that rankled advertisers even when “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was at the height of its powers – if Fox News were looking to tone down its crown-jewel hour, Watters would not have been the top choice.
And moving up “Gutfeld” diminishes the “king-of-late-night” claim that’s lately fallen to host Greg Gutfeld – already specious, since his show is on cable and therefore not delayed across time zones. With “Gutfeld!” moving its start to 10 p.m., 9 p.m., 8 p.m. or 7 p.m. depending on your location, it’ll be even harder to argue that his ratings should be compared to those of network late-night hosts, who traditionally start after 11 p.m. no matter the time zone.
Watters, meanwhile, has huge shoes to fill, in terms of both ratings and influence. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” peaked in October 2020 with an average of more than 5 million viewers, a number Carlson couldn’t sustain in the aftermath of the election. But as linear TV shrinks across the board, his more recent average of 3 million-plus nightly viewers in a non-election year still made the show one of the most-watched hours on cable TV, period.
Perhaps more importantly, Carlson ascended to become the most prominent American conservative media voice during his time on Fox News after decades as a middling journeyman, occupying the vacuum created by the death of talk-radio superstar Rush Limbaugh. Does the 44-year-old Watters, whose “Watters World” started as a man-on-the-street segment for “The O’Reilly Factor” and became its own show in 2015, have what it takes to be the next Fox-made conservative superstar?
The success of “Jesse Watters Primtime” and, perhaps more tellingly, Fox’ top-rated multipanelist show “The Five,” of which Watters is a permanent fixture, suggest that he just might.
And finally, it’s perhaps comforting to know that Fox News is still fiercely enigmatic after all these years: The Drudge Report blasted a banner headline last month saying Hannity, whose “Hannity” has aired at 9 p.m. for time immemorial, would be shifting an hour earlier. Hannity was mum on the topic at the time, and Fox News denied that any decision had been made.