No surprise. There must have been some Trumpers who watch Fox News regularly but were skipping Kelly’s show out of pique at her. Now they can tune in at 9 p.m. Among the wider public, some people are doubtless checking out Carlson’s show out of pure curiosity to see what the new guy’s up to. And Carlson is good on TV, appealing and palpably comfortable in the role, which probably means new viewers are more likely to stick with him than they would a newbie host who’s less self-assured.
The question really is this: If you’re a Fox News right-winger who watched Kelly’s show regularly, why wouldn’t you watch Carlson? Kelly wasn’t some hard-left liberal with a Democratic-leaning audience, no matter what the most febrile Trump fans might tell you. The key ideological difference between her show and Carlson’s is that he’s less neutral towards Trump than she is — which logically should make him more palatable to Fox’s audience, not less. The ratings reflect that.
In the show’s debut prime time week, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” averaged 3 million viewers and 576,000 in the key 25-54 demo, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Those numbers represented a 10% increase in total viewers over the 2016 average for “The Kelly File.” The key 25-54 demo also saw a 12% spike.
Carlson, a conservative journalist fighting an on-air war with elites, was also up 21% in total viewers from the same time last year and 52% in the key demo.
I’ve been searching but can’t find a comparison for how the rest of Fox News fared compared to 2016. My hunch is that viewership is up a bit across the board as excitement builds among Fox viewers for Trump’s first 100 days, but it may be true (and probably is) that Carlson is outperforming the rate of increase across the rest of the network. And to give him his full due, he’s demonstrated an almost supernatural knack so far for snagging oddball interviews that “break out” and go viral online. The latest was the one I wrote about yesterday, in which he interviewed the “Demand Protest” prankster to hilarious effect, but there are lots of other examples over the last few months alone. Buzzworthy interviews on O’Reilly’s and Hannity’s show are comparatively rare and almost always depend on having an A-list guest, like O’Reilly lining up a Super Bowl interview with Trump and Hannity playing pattycake with Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy. Tucker manages to make viral magic with the likes of Kurt Eichenwald and the “Teen Vogue” editor. In different ways, his show and Kelly’s show share a key ingredient that O’Reilly’s and Hannity’s program lack — namely, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. That’s inherently interesting.
Big question for Kelly now, more than ever: How many people who watched her Fox News show at 9 every night will check her out in a new timeslot on another network? That is, was it Kelly they liked or was it Fox News they liked, enough so that they were willing to tolerate a somewhat more centrist show in the 9 p.m. slot because it was still pretty reliably conservative in its outlook? As you mull that, here’s O’Reilly wondering last night whether questioning Trump’s legitimacy as president might be seditious. It’s gonna be a long four (eight?) years.