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Column: Why Fox News Bet Big on Jesse Watters

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On Monday, Fox News named Jesse Watters the permanent host of its 7 pm time slot. Jesse Watters Primetime debuts on January 24, joining Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle as the network’s primetime lineup.

The network is going all-in on Jesse Watters. In addition to helming a daily primetime program, Watters will continue co-hosting The Five, Fox’s second-most-watched show. Between The Five and Primetime, there may not be a single Fox News talent who will be more visible to viewers than Watters will be by February.

Fox News had been trying out opinion hosts, one week at a time, for nearly one year since it moved The Story with Martha MacCallum from 7 pm to 3 pm last January. Guest-hosts have included Brian Kilmeade, Trey Gowdy, Will Cain, Maria Bartiromo, Katie Pavlich, Pete Hegseth, Lawrence Jones, Tammy Bruce, Rachel Campos-Duffy, Sean Duffy, Mark Steyn, and Ben Domenech.

Fox had several options after notably impressive tryouts from Cain, Hegseth, and Gowdy. (Gowdy likely took himself out of the race when Fox moved him to Sundays at 7 pm last summer.) But Fox ultimately chose Watters, which was the expected move. Sources around the industry had viewed Watters as the frontrunner for most of the fall.

Interestingly, Watters did not try out for the 7 pm hour until July, while most other anchors had begun in January or the spring. So it didn’t appear Watters was a candidate for the job early on. However, Watters quickly put himself into the race the first week of July by increasing the time slot’s viewership average.

While most networks combine viewership data, behind-the-scenes politicking, and expected media coverage to help them make informed decisions about their on-air talent, Fox News mostly listens to its viewers. The viewership dictates the story at Fox, and that’s what has made Fox News dominant in the cable news space. By tuning into Watters at 7 pm — at least during on-air tryouts — the viewers effectively voted to make him the permanent host, and Fox News listened.

Watters consistently boosted the time slot in both total viewership and the 25-54 demographic, neither of which is surprising.

In a political primary, there’s a measurement called the “familiarity rating.” Earning support is not just about likeability. It’s also about familiarity. Candidates have to get voters to know them before they can get them to like them, but getting people to know you is no easy feat for prospective politicians.

Cable news hosts are no different. If they want to resonate with viewers on a large scale in only a short time — like in, say, a week-long guest-hosting gig — candidates have to make themselves a) familiar and b) likable.

People are busy. So casual viewers of any channel often know only a handful of personalities. It’s likely some less recognizable hosts came on at 7 pm ET, and viewers decided to change the channel as a result. CNN will experience a similar issue once they begin rotating analysts at 9 pm to replace Chris Cuomo.

Watters had a built-in familiarity advantage that perhaps only Kilmeade could match. Watters co-hosts The Five, the top-rated cable news show of 4Q2021; was a fixture on The O’Reilly Factor, the former cable news gold standard; and is a frequent guest host on Tucker Carlson Tonight, the top-rated show in cable news.

Fox News viewers know Watters, and they like him, which is why his tryouts at 7 pm were successful. Viewers don’t necessarily like Watters more than, say, Pete Hegseth or Will Cain. They know Watters better. 

Even if others think Fox should have made a different selection, hardly anyone will say the move is puzzling. In NFL Draft terms, Watters is the sure-bet.

It’s possible that Watters will do well enough on Primetime that he won’t need to stay on The Five long-term. Hosting two television shows only an hour apart could stretch him thin. Watters may be a big enough star at 7 pm that Fox News could then elevate a new, rising talent on The Five in his place — a rare win-win for all involved. Still, Watters will host both shows for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Jesse Watters will end up doubling or maybe tripling the ratings of that bigoted racist Joy Reid head to head at 7 pm. Now that will be fun to watch.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

13 Comments

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  1. Joy Reid is such a loser. Her only schtick is her overt racism. The fruity White boys at MSNBC allow that because their penis’ have fallen off. Watters will annihilate her in the ratings.

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