April 16, 2024

For the last six years, Tucker Carlson has been the top rated host on Fox News. His show has often been the most-watched hour in all of cable. That has been a boon for Fox, the cable news giant that happens to be the most powerful institution in conservative media and politics.

On Monday, in a shocking development, Fox News ousted Carlson. It remains unclear exactly why he was let go (the list of theories is long) but his departure leaves a gaping hole in the network’s prime time line up.

Fox News appears confident that the network will be able to replace Carlson without much harm to the bottom line. The network has a good track record of kicking top-rated stars to the curb and proceeding to grow the audience. Rupert Murdoch almost certainly calculated that this time would be no different. But they can’t foist any old schlub into the coveted hour. The selection process will be an extremely calculated one, weighing things like star power, ratings, and appeal to blue chip advertisers (Carlson scored an F minus in this category).

Fox News prime time has been in a state of evolution over the last few years. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the 7 p.m. news hour was replaced by an opinion show that, after a rotating cast of hosts tried out, ended up being helmed by Jesse Watters. Fox canned another news program at 11 p.m. and replaced it with Greg Gutfeld’s spin on a late night show, to ratings success. Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have held down the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. hours for several years now, regularly trouncing the competition.

8 p.m. has been Carlson’s territory since 2017, and will now have rotating hosts until a permanent solution is decided. Here are Mediaite’s picks for his great replacement — with betting odds — including the most likely options and some ideas way out of right-field. One note: we did not include in this list Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, two hosts Fox might very well move into Carlson’s old timeslot. These are mostly fresh ideas. Read on…

Greg Gutfeld (+250)

Greg Gutfeld is already one of the most-watched hosts on cable news and is particularly popular in the key 25-54 age demographic, where Carlson long dominated. Gutfeld currently co-hosts the ratings juggernaut The Five — the program that has battled Tucker Carlson Tonight for ratings supremacy in the post-Trump era — and hosts his own successful political satire show at 11 p.m. Both regularly lead in the ratings. While Gutfeld’s style might not make him an obvious choice to replace Carlson as the host of a prime time cable news show, in many ways, he mostly closely aligns with the audience that Carlson built in the last few years. Gutfeld may not share Carlson’s penchant for spinning conspiracy theories or dabbling in race politics, but he often wades into the culture wars with a similar ability to both energize and comfort his viewers.

Despite being an actual comic – Gutfeld begins his evening show with a late-night style monologue – Fox News could undoubtedly trust him to stick closer to the news of the day and create less controversy than Carlson did. Day after day he tackles serious news subjects on The Five, with a dash of irreverance that wouldn’t be so out of place at 8 p.m. So, while Gutfeld might be an unconventional choice to replace Fox’s top-rated host, in many ways he is already the second most popular host at the network, and would be a safe choice and a steady hand to retain Carlson’s audience.

Tulsi Gabbard (+750)

You might think a former House Democrat replacing Tucker Carlson is a terrible idea. But Tulsi Gabbard is no ordinary ex-Democrat. She has long been a fixture on Carlson’s show, and even guest-hosted for him on several occasions. While doing the latter, she proved her chops as a ruthless interrogator in her interview with Rep. George Santos (R-NY).

Gabbard and Carlson share in common an impulse to mock criticism of bloodthirsty autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Just as Carlson has done throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Gabbard has pushed Russian propaganda and blasted U.S. support for Ukraine. Burnishing her MAGA bonafides, she recently compared Joe Biden to Adolf Hitler and declared his administration a “dictatorship.” Gabbard has also dipped her toes into election denialism, endorsing proud election-denier Kari Lake. She has emerged as a formidable culture warrior since her exit from Congress, putting her in a good position to carry on Carlson’s legacy — ideally without the slurs.

Kayleigh McEnany (+2000)

Kayleigh McEnany is a long shot to take over Carlson’s time slot in primetime, but she could be just the right fit for Fox’s attempt to maintain his audience by installing a familiar face. McEnany began her career at Fox News as a producer for Huckabee and at one point was a commentator on CNN. She became a household name as Trump’s press secretary and returned to Fox as a co-host for Outnumbered. There is a chance McEnany could expand the prime time space to a younger, more female demographic, while preserving its MAGA bonafides.

One problem: Back in 2021, Fox News almost didn’t hire McEnany. The network was in talks with her to join at the end of Trump’s first term — until Jan. 6 happened and it was forced to punt. After all, McEnany infamously lied about the 2020 election, leading to a memorable moment in which Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto had to brutally fact-check her live on air. With a $787.5 million settlement just reached with Dominion and another dangerous case looming from Smartmatic, Fox News might want to take it easy in promoting hosts known for election lies.

Brian Kilmeade (+500)

When Fox had to hastily throw together a plan to replace Carlson, the network turned to longtime Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade to take the first week. There are obvious benefits to this choice: he’s a company man who appeals to the America First audience and whose Rumble videos sometimes appear alongside Tucker’s clips on many conservative sites. Kilmeade isn’t a perfect fit for Tucker’s crowd — Peter Navarro loathes him, for some reason — but he suits Fox News, and often pleases the rest of the media with heterodox takes on Trump and other issues. He was even praised as a “sweet guy” by Megyn Kelly in her defense of Carlson over the firing, another sign of cross-audience appeal. Kilmeade would, though, represent a sea change in tone for the timeslot, as would most of the potential replacements who aren’t just Tucker Carlson wearing a fake mustache and glasses. But there was a reason he was the first to fill in after Tucker’s ouster. He’s liked, and he works. That might be all Fox needs.

Pete Hegseth (+1500)

Tucker Carlson’s firing has infuriated his viewers, which is a dangerous game for Fox News. The network has experienced an exodus once before, after it was the first to call Arizona for Joe Biden in 2020. Certainly the power of that audience has been a subject of scrutiny after the internal messages revealed by the Dominion lawsuit showed executives and hosts all too willing to promote false election claims in order to sate them. So it’s not hard to imagine the network wanting to again placate that audience with another version of Carlson. Enter Pete Hegseth. The firebrand has been at Fox News for a while now, but has yet to show the break-out star power of the other possible hosts, as he struggles to move out of the doldrums of Fox & Friends Weekend. But you know who else used to host the weekend morning show? Tucker Carlson. The play would be hoping the Tucker-starved audience makes him into a new star as he delivers the rants and toes the Trump line.

It could be a band-aid rather than solution, though, a holding pattern until Hegseth himself is fired for following TOO closely in Tucker’s footsteps. Recall his bizarre inability to say who won the 2020 election a year after it happened. Not exactly the kind of host you want calming the waters as Fox faces dangerous lawsuits on the horizon.

Meghan McCain (+6000)

More than anything else, the reason Fox News viewers embraced Tucker Carlson was that he made liberals’ heads explode. Meghan McCain, the former co-host of The View certainly checks that box. There’s arguably no one on the current Fox News roster, and few in America, who can induce more liberal tears than the daughter of the legendary John McCain. She more than held her own while debating four of them every day on The View, which frustrated her co-stars and prompted derision from the online Left to no end. She would probably need a co-host who can tee her up at certain points and serve as the broadcast’s traffic cop. (Will Cain?) But she has a similar brand to Tucker — a free-thinking conservative who isn’t quite in lockstep with MAGA, but has their respect because she drives progressives batty. This probably won’t happen, but if ever it did, it could really be a home run.

Jesse Watters (+150)

During the debut episode of Jesse Watters Primetime on Fox News in January 2022, the eponymous host gave viewers a fairly accurate glimpse of the tone his new show would have. “A famous man once said, ‘You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re going,’” Jesse Watters said to begin the first-ever Primetime. “And that famous man was me.” Watters imported this sort of levity to the 7 p.m. time slot from his other show, The Five, which he co-hosts at 5 p.m. While Primetime offers standard Fox News fare in terms of subject matter, the program lacks the kind of self-righteousness that courses through certain cable news opinion shows. It can also be occasionally careless.

For now, rotating hosts are filling in for Tucker. The last time Fox News experimented with guest hosts for an open time slot during primetime on weeknights, the network chose Watters to host the 7 p.m. hour. Honestly, it was a no-brainer. Depending on how things shake out, he could end up starting his program an hour later. Easy fix, right?

Clay Travis (+2000)

Despite originally making a name for himself in the world of sports media, Clay Travis has proven himself to be a natural when it comes to political commentary and is a regular guest on Fox News’ various programs, hammering the culture war talking point du jour. He founded the popular website OutKick, which reports on the intersection of sports and politics. After joining Fox Sports in 2014, he started a sports radio show in 2016.

Following the death of Rush Limbaugh, Travis was given the daunting task of filling Limbaugh’s time slot with co-host Buck Sexton. While The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show did not retain all of Limbaugh’s audience, it has been one of the most successful programs to be formed in the wake of his death. According to Talkers, the politics show maintains nearly 10 million weekly listeners, comparable to the immensely popular Sean Hannity Show.

Dana Perino (+1000)

Dana Perino, the White House press secretary turned Fox mainstay, would represent a vibe shift in the 8 p.m. slot. While Carlson and his predecessor, Bill O’Reilly, were enormous, combative personalities whose energy drove their respective shows, Perino would represent a pivot toward more thoughtful, less bombastic programming. If granted the opportunity to host her own show in prime time, Perino might not prove a ratings bonanza. But it’s unlikely that she’d tank, given her established reputation with viewers and palatable personality. It’s also possible that the volatile circumstances that drove Carlson and O’Reilly’s exits might compel Fox to look for something completely different this time around. A steady hand would prove particularly important with the potentially treacherous 2024 election cycle looming. Then again, the contrast might be too stark. Replacing Carlson with an alum of George W. Bush’s administration might needle Carlson’s fandom and cause precisely the kind of political backlash to his ouster that the network is hoping to avoid.

Tiffany Cross (+75000)

It might seem to be a way-out-of-the-box choice (read: no chance on God’s green earth) but stay with it for a minute. Tiffany Cross, the provocative host who was fired by MSNBC just as suddenly as Carlson was fired by Fox News, could be just the drastic corrective the network needs at 8 p.m. While Cross could bring in a whole new audience, the old audience might just tune in out of curiosity and stick around to learn — or unlearn — things about social justice issues and white fragility. Fox News would gain the ability to burnish the “all viewpoints welcome” image they try to project when critics accuse them of bias. The move would also satisfy a cosmic symmetry that maybe Fox News could use these days. Cross blames her criticism of Carlson as a major factor in her sudden firing a few months ago. And one little-known fact about the outspoken former MSNBC host is that she got her start in cable news as a regular guest on… Fox News Channel.

Will Cain (+500)

Since history often repeats itself, a good clue as to who will replace Carlson as the 8 p.m. host on Fox can be found in his own ascent to the hour when he replaced Bill O’Reilly in 2017. Carlson, a cable news vet who hosted shows on CNN and MSNBC, eventually landed at Fox as a co-host for Fox & Friends Weekend.

Enter Will Cain into the “Who Will Replace Tucker Derby,” who like Carlson before him, co-hosts Fox’s weekend morning show. He certainly fits the profile: A proud Texan and sports enthusiast who came to Fox from ESPN. He’s proven more than eager to throw red meat to viewers during his many stints guest-hosting in prime time, but does so in a manner that isn’t as relentlessly controversial as Tucker. He’s a safe but pulpy solution, which might be just what Fox is looking for as execs grow weary of scandals.

Vivek Ramaswamy (+20000)

We’re going to be honest: we thought this one was dumb, but Semafor is floating it so why the heck not. Vivek Ramaswamy has been a Fox News staple in recent months, appearing some 77 times on a variety of shows since January. The millionaire entrepreneur, who wrote a book with the not-so-subtle title Woke, Inc., is well known to Carlson’s audience and chose Tucker Carlson Tonight to declare his candidacy for president in February. Cynics have said his candidacy is “manufactured in part” by Fox, but you know who else turned Fox hits into a successful presidential run? Donald J. Trump. Ramaswamy has no chance of winning a Republican primary, but the race is an excellent vehicle to get his name out there and continue the kind of cable news combat showed off in a debate with CNN’s now-ousted Don Lemon about Black history. The debate may have played a part in Lemon losing his job on CNN’s morning show — that’s a badge of honor for anyone seeking to impress Fox’s audience.

Donald Trump (+7500)

Yup. Here’s the thing: if Fox News wants to play it safe, they can replace Carlson with any of its homegrown hosts who would do a fine job of maintaining Tucker’s audience of a few million viewers a night. But if Fox News decides it wants to harpoon a whale? Eyes might just turn to former President Donald Trump for 8 p.m. There are some serious hurdles of course. Trump is currently running for president again, in a campaign that won’t end until at least the summer of 2024. He also shares a flaw with Tucker: an impulsive inability to stay out of trouble, lawsuits be damned. But he’s also a right-wing icon who cut his teeth with a weekly appearance on Fox & Friends. The sets of Fox News are familiar terrain. We’re spitballing here, but the network could pre-tape his show every night to ensure nothing too devastating airs.

This one is extremely unlikely, of course. Murdoch famously hates Trump. But Murdoch’s audience disagrees. If Fox values that audience more than it values its standing as a news network, which is certainly the impression painted by the Dominion revelations, it would seriously consider filling the 8 p.m. hour with Trump Tonight.

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