Fox News Considers Major Primetime Shuffle After Tucker Carlson Firing

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty

Fox News is considering making some dramatic changes to its primetime lineup now that Tucker Carlson is gone.

The Drudge Report on Wednesday morning reported that the network plans to move longtime star Sean Hannity into the coveted 8 p.m. hour previously held by Carlson, who was shockingly fired late last month. Furthermore, Drudge added, with Hannity moving up an hour, fellow hosts Jesse Watters and Greg Gutfeld would slide into the 9 and 10 p.m. primetime hours. The latter slot is currently held by Laura Ingraham.

In response to Drudge’s blaring headline, a network spokesperson wrote in a statement: “No decision has been made on a new primetime line-up and there are multiple scenarios under consideration.” Drudge’s claim about a major lineup reshuffle came just a day after Fox Corp. held its annual advertising upfront prominently featuring the network’s stars.

Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch left the door open to schedule changes last week during an earnings call. “There’s no change to our programming strategy at Fox News,” he said. “It’s obviously a successful strategy, and as always, we are adjusting our programming and our lineup and that’s what we continue to do.”

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A major reshuffle of Fox primetime—which would come as some of its post-Tucker ratings have begun to crater—would not be unprecedented for the network. In 2013, Fox reworked its slate around Megyn Kelly’s promotion to primetime; and then in 2017 the network retooled its lineup around Kelly’s exit for NBC and Bill O’Reilly’s firing.

Since the network ousted Carlson just days after settling a defamation lawsuit with Dominion for $787.5 million, Fox News’ ratings have plummeted as disgruntled right-wing viewers have boycotted the conservative cable giant. Meanwhile, wannabe rival Newsmax has seen its viewership explode in recent weeks as the MAGA channel has unapologetically pandered to Carlson fans.

Hannity, who has been with Fox News since its launch in 1996, has been a ratings juggernaut for the network for decades now. At the same time, though, he’d seen his influence within the conservative movement wane in recent years as Carlson had become the prime GOP kingmaker. Additionally, Carlson overtook Hannity as the most-watched host on cable news over the past couple of years.

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While Hannity had recently dropped to fourth overall in viewership on Fox News—trailing Carlson, Watters, and late-afternoon panel show The Five (which features both Watters and Gutfeld)—he still remained the most-watched cable news show at 9 p.m. And though Fox News’ ratings have taken a hit across the board since Carlson’s departure, they have absolutely cratered at 8 p.m. as the network has filled the slot with rotating guest hosts, typically drawing around half of Carlson’s standard audience.

In fact, on Monday, MSNBC beat Fox News in primetime in both total viewership and the key 25-54 advertising demographic. The Rachel Maddow Show, which now only airs on Mondays, defeated Hannity by over 500,000 viewers overall. The 8 p.m. hour, anchored by Will Cain, only pulled in 1.62 million viewers. (Carlson averaged a total audience of 3.25 million in the first quarter of this year.)

Besides seemingly hoping Hannity gives a boost to 8 p.m., Fox News could also be anticipating that the gains Watters and Gutfeld have made with MAGA audiences since recently launching their own solo shows would translate to primetime. Especially as the network tries to win back angry Carlson viewers who have turned their back on Fox.

Since taking over the 11 p.m. hour in 2021 with his conservative “comedy” show, Gutfeld has christened himself the “King of Late Night” as his ratings have typically overshadowed the broadcast network’s late-night offerings. Also, along with Watters, he is the focal point of The Five, which had even overtaken Carlson in the ratings over the past year.

With a possible shift to earlier in the evening, Gutfled would no longer be able to boast of being the top late-night host on TV. And if he were to move to a later slot, Watters would now officially host Jesse Watters Primetime in actual primetime. (Watters has long been seen as a potential replacement for Carlson since his ouster, so a move into a prime hour would not be surprising.)

Since taking over the 7 p.m. hour last year, Watters, a one-time Bill O’Reilly protégé, has been a favorite of Fox News viewers, especially as he’s devoted much of his programming to right-wing conspiracy theories, culture-war grievances, and casual bigotry.

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The possible promotions for Watters and Gutfeld, and the time shift for Hannity, could mean longtime 10 p.m. host Laura Ingraham would no longer lead a primetime show. Since launching The Ingraham Angle in 2017, Ingraham has seemingly tried to thread the needle between Carlson’s faux-populist/xenophobic shtick and Hannity’s over-the-top Trump boosterism. However, she has seen her ratings slide in recent years and has sometimes drawn fewer viewers than Gutfeld!, which airs an hour after her.

Meanwhile, as Fox attempts to move on from Carlson, the far-right TV personality is attempting to launch his own media venture. While actively waging war against the network in an effort to break his contract with Fox, which runs through January 2025, Carlson recently announced that he is debuting a new show on Twitter, hopefully by the end of the month.

Just this week, Variety reported that several Fox News anchors have reached out to Carlson to let him know they are “eager” to join his new endeavor whenever their contracts are up.

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