Twenty years ago, a recent college graduate named Jesse Watters joined Fox News as a production assistant. He finagled his way into an on-camera gig as a sidekick to Bill O’Reilly, before expanding his ambush-style man-on-the-street interviews into a weekend program and a role as co-host of the talk show “The Five.”
Now Mr. Watters, 43, is poised to enter the upper ranks of Fox News stardom, and all the influence that confers: Starting Jan. 24, he will have his own 7 p.m. program, “Jesse Watters Primetime,” which will serve as the lead-in to Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, the highest-rated evening block on cable news.
The ascent of Mr. Watters — a conservative culture warrior who delights in bashing all things liberal — comes despite numerous controversies over his on-air antics. In a 2016 segment, he trafficked in crude and offensive Asian American stereotypes, prompting a protest at the Fox News offices and rebukes from elected officials. (“I regret if anyone found offense,” Mr. Watters replied in a tweet.)
Last month, he used notably violent language in urging a gathering of conservatives to “ambush” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci with tough questions that he deemed “the kill shot.” Dr. Fauci, who has faced threats of harm from right-wing activists, called for Mr. Watters to be fired; Fox News defended its host, saying his comments were metaphorical and “twisted completely out of context.”
The decision on Monday to anoint Mr. Watters as Fox News’s 7 p.m. host is as emphatic a statement of support as the network’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, and its corporate overseer, Rupert Murdoch, could make.
“Jesse’s versatility and hosting acumen has grown exponentially over the last five years,” Ms. Scott said in a statement. “We look forward to watching him expand his connection even further through this new solo weeknight hour.” Mr. Watters will also remain as a co-host of “The Five,” the 5 p.m. show that has recently rivaled “Tucker Carlson Tonight” for the channel’s biggest ratings.
The 7 p.m. slot at Fox News has been in flux for about a year, since the network replaced a newscast anchored by Martha MacCallum with an hour dedicated to conservative opinion. A series of hosts — including Trey Gowdy, the former congressman; Mark Steyn, a right-wing pundit; and Fox News personalities like Maria Bartiromo and Brian Kilmeade — took turns anchoring the show in what was widely considered an audition.
In the end, Ms. Scott opted for a homegrown talent whose pro-Trump views fit neatly into the rest of Fox News’s evening slate. Mr. Watters developed a rapport with former President Donald J. Trump, interviewing him several times and dining with him at the White House.
Mr. Watters, who grew up in Pennsylvania and on Long Island, is registered to vote as a member of the Conservative Party of New York. One of his popular segments with viewers is called “Mom Texts,” in which he reads aloud scolding messages from his mother, who is a liberal.