April 19, 2024

Fox News is feeling the effects of life without Tucker Carlson.

“Fox News Tonight” — the program temporarily filling the slot long occupied by Carlson — pulled in 1.7 million viewers with “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade, according to Nielsen data.

The number is 47% below what “Tucker Carlson Tonight” delivered in the 8 p.m. Eastern hour a week earlier on April 16. Carlson averaged 3.2 million viewers in the first quarter of 2023.

Carlson was fired on Monday, a stunning move that sent shockwaves through the TV news industry and made global headlines. Rupert Murdoch’s conservative network gave no reason for the departure, but it’s believed to be related to the mounting legal problems facing the organization.

Last week, Fox News paid $787.5 million to settle a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems, which claims it was smeared during coverage of false allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election. Fox News also faces a lawsuit from former producer Abby Grossberg, who alleges she endured a hostile work environment while employed on Carlson’s program.

Fox News now is faced with replacing a top-rated prime-time star, a situation it has dealt with successfully in the past. But in the short term, the network may be in for a rocky ride from a ratings standpoint.

“Fox News Tonight” managed to top cable news competitors CNN and MSNBC in total audience. But the channel, typically a ratings powerhouse, suffered a rare loss in the hour among the advertiser-coveted demographic of viewers age 25 to 54.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper won the hour in the demo with 163,000 viewers, with MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes” close behind at 162,000. Kilmeade scored 149,000 in the category. The ratings indicate Kilmeade won’t be giving up the morning shift anytime soon.

Without the tentpole that Carlson’s program provided, the ratings for other Fox News shows were down as well. “Hannity” averaged 2 million viewers, a decline of 20% from the previous week. “The Ingraham Angle” scored 1.56 million, down 12%.

Newsmax appeared to be the beneficiary of Carlson fans looking for an alternative. “Eric Bolling The Balance” pulled in 562,000 viewers in the 8 p.m. Eastern hour, a fivefold increase over last Tuesday when Carlson was his competition (with guest Elon Musk). Bolling is a former Fox News host.

The rest of the Newsmax lineup saw a lift as well, with the audiences for “Rob Schmitt Tonight,” “Prime News” and “Greg Kelly Reports” all doubling in size from a week ago.

A representative for Newsmax said the network also is seeing a boost in viewing on its streaming platforms. The channel is available as a free streaming app.

The last time Newsmax saw a major ratings lift was after Fox News called the state of Arizona for President Biden in the 2020 election, putting him on the path to the White House. Private communications among Fox News talent and executives that became public in the Dominion case showed that the network was concerned about the upstart competitor in the weeks after that call.

Many viewers who sampled Newsmax after the 2020 election eventually returned to Fox News.

Dominion’s lawsuit said Fox News promoted former President Trump’s false voter-fraud allegations because it was worried about viewers defecting to Newsmax, which was far more sympathetic to Trump’s claims.

Fox News will be tested again, as the sharp decline in Tuesday’s ratings is a clear sign that the audience is upset. One possible fix is moving Fox News fan favorite Jesse Watters into Carlson’s time slot while auditioning hosts an hour earlier.

Watters is currently on paternity leave.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.