Jesse Watters: the Fox News host taking over Tucker Carlson's time slot

Fox News is hoping he's the next big star

Jesse Watters on the set of his show in 2022
(Image credit: John Lamparski / Getty Images)

Jesse Watters is well known to Fox News viewers, and the network is banking on that familiarity as he takes over the 8 p.m. time slot once held by Tucker Carlson.

Watters, 44, is a co-host of "The Five" and has had his own program, "Jesse Watters Primetime," in the 7 p.m. hour since early 2022. He started out at Fox in 2002 as a production assistant. Soon, he was making appearances on Bill O'Reilly's show, "The O'Reilly Factor," conducting ambush interviews of people critical of the host, including journalists, and others that O'Reilly didn't agree with, like a judge who sentenced a child sex offender to 60 days in jail. Watters plays the role of provocateur "with tongue in cheek," the Los Angeles Times said, "and is prone to making outrageous statements."

Since Carlson's ouster from Fox News in late April, the network has seen its overall prime-time rating plummet from an average of 2.6 million viewers to 1.6 million. Watters will start in his new 8 p.m. time slot on July 17, and Fox News is elevating him to this new position for a reason: he regularly has more than 2 million viewers tuning into "Jesse Waters Primetime" every night.

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A conservative awakening

A Philadelphia native, Watters is from a media family — his maternal great-grandfather was publisher of The Saturday Evening Post and his maternal grandfather was publisher of Better Homes & Gardens. Like Carlson, Watters attended Trinity College, a private liberal arts college in Hartford, Connecticut. It was there, Watters wrote in his memoir "How I Saved the World," that he became enamored with conservative politics after watching C-SPAN. "I was listening to the Senate floor speeches and realized the Republicans believed in the same things the Founding Fathers fought for: limited government and individual freedom," he said.

Watters become a Rush Limbaugh devotee, and wrote in his book that when he was back home during school breaks, he would provoke his liberal parents by having them listen to Limbaugh's show. "My dad could handle it, but it gave my mom road rage," he said. She still doesn't agree with him — on "The Five," Watters has read text messages from his mom, including one in 2018 she sent in response to a segment about the Mueller special counsel investigation. "You end up presenting a lack of a moral compass honey," he quoted her as saying. "We all know you are a Trumpet — you need not scream it."

Watters has described himself as a "political humorist," and leans on this when receiving pushback. For a "Watters' World" segment in 2016, he went to Manhattan's Chinatown to ask people about the upcoming presidential election. Watters fired questions at bystanders, including many elderly people who did not appear to speak English, asking who they planned on voting for and whether "they call Chinese food in China just food?" It was "rude, offensive, mocking, derogatory, and damaging," the Asian American Journalists Association said, adding that the world should be "far beyond tired, racist stereotypes and targeting an ethnic group for humiliation and objectification on the basis of their race."

In 2021, Watters was criticized for using violent rhetoric when talking about Dr. Anthony Fauci, then the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, telling a conference audience to confront Fauci with questions about Covid-19 and then "go in for the kill shot." Fox News stood by him, and said in a statement Watters "was using a metaphor for asking hard-hitting questions to Dr. Fauci."

Understanding the game

Under O'Reilly and Carlson, the Fox News 8 p.m. hour was occupied by "someone with a big personality and a wellspring of anger," Paul Waldman wrote on MSNBC. Erik Wemple, the Post's media critic, said that unlike his predecessors, Watters likely won't be leading any charges. "He's a follower," Wemple told Insider. "It's astonishing to me how little originality there is in the stuff he says." Instead of taking a stand, "Watters is effectively an internet troll who happens to be on TV," Waldman said. "If you want a detailed breakdown of the latest right-wing obsession, he's not the one you'd seek out; if on the other hand you merely want someone to smirk while delivering a zinger about Hunter Biden, Watters is your man."

Watters knows what makes good television, former "The O'Reilly Factor" producer Joe Muto told Insider, and it's why he has been successful. During the time they worked together, Watters made it clear he was conservative, but wasn't as ideological as some. "He always knew it was a game," Muto said. Watters can go back and forth between the "goofy ambush guy" and "angry co-host on 'The Five,'" Muto added, and has never forgotten the most important thing O'Reilly taught him: "The No. 1 rule is to get viewers and keep your advertisers happy."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.