By Tim Baysinger
(Reuters) - Fox News <FOXA.O> said on Thursday commentator Tucker Carlson will take over its 9 p.m. time slot to replace Megyn Kelly, who is leaving the network to join NBC.
Known for its conservative voices, the 21st Century Fox unit is looking to maintain its perch atop the U.S. cable news landscape. Fox News is coming off its most-watched year in 2016, where it finished ahead of every other U.S. cable channel for the first time in its 20-year history.
“Tucker Carlson Tonight” will move to 9 p.m. beginning Jan. 9, with his 7 p.m. time slot being filled temporarily by Martha MacCallum a week later, who will host a show chronicling President-elect Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office.
Media buyers see these moves as natural fits for Fox News, after a turbulent 2016 that saw the ouster of founding chairman Roger Ailes. Kelly was one of several employees who last year accused Ailes of sexual harassment. Ailes denied the charges but left the network.
Having frequently guest-hosted for the network’s prime-time shows, Carlson and MacCallum are both familiar faces to Fox News viewers.
“I think it’s a smart move. Both have a following and Tucker in particular is getting a lot of good buzz,” said Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen.
While Kelly was a huge star for Fox News, the channel has built up a large and loyal following among conservative viewers that should only increase after Trump takes office. “Going into a conservative Trump administration, they will continue to be able to run with that. They’re going to be the mouthpiece,” said Scott Singer, managing director for DDG.
Replacing Greta Van Susteren, Carlson has scored consistently strong ratings since the Nov. 14 premiere of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” The show has averaged 2.8 million viewers and finished second, ahead of Megyn Kelly, among adults aged 25-54 in December, the demographic most attractive to advertisers who buy time on news programs.
Van Susteren will join Kelly at NBC News, anchoring a 6 p.m. weekday show on its cable news channel MSNBC beginning Jan. 9, the company announced on Thursday.
Carlson will now air after "The O'Reilly Factor," the top-rated cable news program, giving Fox News a pro-Trump lineup with Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, both of whom were frequent supporters.
Kelly will host a daytime and Sunday evening news show for NBC News, the Comcast <CMCSA.O> unit announced on Tuesday. Her Fox show, “The Kelly File,” had ranked second in cable news among total viewers and adults 25-54 for 2016.
(Reporting by Tim Baysinger; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown)