By Akash Sriram

June 26 (Reuters) – Fox News said on Monday that network veteran Jesse Watters would fill the key prime-time slot left vacant by the exit of top-rated host Tucker Carlson.

Carlson left the network in April, less than a week after parent company Fox Corp settled a $787.5 million defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems, in which the anchor played a starring role.

Watters will move to the 8 p.m.slot, starting July 17, with his opinion program “Jesse Watters Primetime”, which was launched last year as a 7 p.m. show, Fox News said.

Fox added that Watters’ show had more than 2.6 million viewers this year, of which 270,000 were from the key 25-54 age group, and was the highest rated in the 7 p.m.category in cable news history.

Carlson’s talk show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” was the highest-rated cable news program among the same demographic on the most-watched U.S. cable news network.

Watters joined the network in 2002 as a production assistant and went on to interview former President Donald Trump and entrepreneur Mark Cuban on his weekend show “Watters’ World”, which started in 2017.

Fox News backed Watters in 2021 despite infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci calling for his sacking after he asked a crowd of conservatives to “ambush” him.

In May, the month after Carlson departed Fox News, the network´s average total primetime viewers declined by 32% from the previous month, according to AdWeek, citing Nielsen data.Yet Fox remains the highest-rated cable news network in total viewers and among adults 25-54.

In the weeks following Carlson’s departure, Fox had filled the 8 p.m. slot with “Fox News Tonight,” which was hosted by a rotating crew of Fox News personalities.

Laura Ingraham will move to a show earlier in the evening at 7 p.m.and late-night host Greg Gutfeld will move up an hour to 10 p.m., Fox News said.

Meanwhile, maria ozawa Sean Hannity will remain at the 9 p.m. show, the conservative network said. (Reporting by Akash Sriram and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru and Helen Coster in New York; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Maju Samuel)

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