Fox News said Monday it is parting ways with firebrand anchor Tucker Carlson, the network's most popular prime-time host and a leading voice in the modern conservative movement known for his conspiratorial rhetoric and culture-warrior provocations.
The network announced the stunning news days after it agreed to pay nearly $800 million to Dominion Voting Systems to avert a high-stakes defamation trial that had cast a shadow over the future of the network.
"FOX News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways," the company said in a short news release. "Mr. Carlson's last program was Friday April 21st."
Carlson's most recent broadcast did not feature any indication that he was preparing to leave the network. "We'll be back on Monday," he said cheerfully at the end of Friday's episode.
Fox News did not specify why Carlson is leaving, and a spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email from NBC News requesting more information on his abrupt exit.
The network's statement did not include any comment from Carlson. The network will rely on a rotation of interim hosts until it names a permanent anchor for the 8 p.m. ET programming block.
The decision to part ways with Carlson was made by Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott on Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter.
"Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade anchored the 8 p.m. hour on Monday and opened the show with a brief statement addressing the elephant in the room: "As you probably have heard, Fox News and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. I wish Tucker the best."
"I'm great friends with Tucker and always will be," Kilmeade added. "But right now, it’s time for 'Fox News Tonight,' so let’s get started."
"Tucker Carlson Tonight," a cornerstone of the Fox News lineup since 2016, was one of the most-watched shows on American cable news, outpacing rivals at CNN and MSNBC.
Carlson, 53, established himself as one of the most influential figures in a conservative political coalition reshaped by former President Donald Trump. He regularly drew controversy for incendiary statements about race, immigration, LGBTQ rights and other topics.
Carlson faced fierce criticism last year when extremism experts drew a connection between his on-air statements and the "great replacement" white nationalist views espoused by a gunman who killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York.
He also attracted intense scrutiny for spreading political misinformation, fostering conspiracy theories about the results of the 2020 presidential election, minimizing the severity of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and attacking journalists at other outlets.
In the lead-up to the Dominion trial, Carlson's internal communications were released and showed him criticizing Trump and acknowledging that claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election were baseless.
"I hate him passionately," Carlson said in a text message to an unidentified person on Jan. 4, 2021, according to exhibits unsealed before the Dominion trial was set to begin. (Fox and Dominion settled the suit for $787.5 million last Tuesday, just as opening statements were to start. Dominion declined to comment on Monday.)
But Carlson later backtracked and recently devoted a full episode of his show to an interview with Trump, who is once again seeking the Republican nomination for president.
The stock price of Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, dropped sharply after Carlson’s departure became public, dipping more than 4%.
Fox News faces other lawsuits related to statements anchors made in the wake of the 2020 election. The network is also being sued by Abby Grossberg, a former producer for Carlson who alleges the company is a hotbed of discrimination and misogyny.
Grossberg, who once worked as the head of booking on Carlson's show, alleged in a legal filing that the anchor created "a work environment that subjugated women based on vile sexist stereotypes, typecasted religious minorities and belittled their traditions, and demonstrated little to no regard for mental health."
Fox has disputed Grossberg's claims, and a spokeswoman for the network recently said: "We will continue to vigorously defend Fox against Ms. Grossberg’s unmeritorious legal claims, which are riddled with false allegations against Fox and our employees."
Grossberg's attorney, Gerry Filippatos, said Monday that they'd discussed possible settlement talks with a third-party mediator over the weekend and that those talks had ended "unfruitfully" on Monday.
An outside lawyer investigated Grossberg's allegations, Filippatos said, and Fox News conveyed to Grossberg's lawyers after her firing that her allegations were "unfounded."
The television news industry was rattled yet again on Monday when CNN anchor Don Lemon shared on Twitter that he had been terminated by the network after 17 years there. Lemon recently provoked backlash for on-air comments about GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley’s age.
In addition to hosting a popular prime-time show, Carlson was also one of the marquee personalities on the company's nascent streaming platform, Fox Nation, after signing a new deal with the company in 2021. "Tucker Carlson Originals," a documentary series, recently profiled people who eat bugs.
Carlson took over the 8 p.m. ET time slot after the departure of Bill O'Reilly, who left the network in 2017 amid a series of sexual harassment allegations. O'Reilly's attorney denied any misconduct at the time.
Earlier in his career, Carlson put in stints at CNN and MSNBC. He also co-founded the conservative commentary website The Daily Caller and wrote articles for various magazines, including Esquire and The Atlantic.