July 18, 2023
Philadelphia-native Jesse Watters hosted the first episode of his new primetime show on FOX News on Monday night, stepping into the role created by the departure of longtime host Tucker Carlson last month.
Watters grew up in Germantown and East Falls, attending William Penn Charter School through 11th grade before moving to Long Island. His father, Stephen Hapgood Watters, was once the director of the middle school. His mom, Anne Purvis, is a child psychologist whose family has a history in the publishing world — her father published Better Homes and Gardens and her grandfather was publisher of The Saturday Evening Post.
An interesting piece of Watters' background is that his parents are both Democrats. In the past, Watters has read his mom's reprimanding texts on-air during his appearances on "The Five" — sometimes about politics, sometimes about his poor pronunciation.
But on Monday night, at the end of his first primetime show, Purvis called in to the new show to plead with her son not to peddle conspiracy theories. After calling Watters "honey bun" and congratulating him on the debut, she gave him a light-hearted lecture.
"Do not tumble into any conspiracy rabbit holes," Purvis said. "We do not want to lose you and we want no lawsuits."
Our first 8pm show is in the books, so how did we do? My mom calls in with some advice. pic.twitter.com/w8psRW1Whm— Jesse Watters (@JesseBWatters) July 18, 2023
Purvis went on advise her son not to lean on conservatives' typical talking points to drive ratings.
"Use your voice responsibly to promote conversation that maintains a narrative thread," Purvis said. "There really has been enough Biden-bashing and the laptop is old. Perhaps you could suggest that your people take less interest, for example, in other people's bodies and talk about that."
Watters' rise at FOX News is notable in that he's been with the company for the entirety of his career. He started out as a production assistant at the network in the early 2000s and began to get air time after he joined the production staff of "The O'Reilly Factor" a few years later.
Watters distinguished himself from his predecessor during his introductory monologue on Monday night. Carlson, who has since launched a streaming show on Twitter, worked for a number of networks before headlining FOX News' weeknight slate.
"I come from a different place. FOX was my first job out of college 20 years ago," Watters said. "I started off in the basement, freelance, making minimum wage. Slapping labels on tapes."
After Tucker Carlson's ouster from FOX News in April, the network's primetime ratings took a dive — losing nearly a third of primetime viewers in May. That sets Watters up with considerable pressure to help FOX News rebound. But the network remains ahead of top conservative competitors Newsmax and OAN and still outperforms MSNBC and CNN.
Much of Watters' debut focused on discussing the fallout of the small bag of cocaine found in a cubby inside the White House's West Executive entrance earlier this month. The U.S. Secret Service concluded its investigation without identifying the source of the drugs, prompting rampant speculation from former President Donald Trump and others that the cocaine belonged to the president's son, Hunter Biden, who has been open about his past struggles with drug addiction. Watters echoed that belief on Monday night, bringing on investor Jordan Belfort to discuss a possible cover-up.
"We've told you before, this was either a White House staffer or a close family member," Watters said. "And our sources tell us Hunter's living at the White House. We hope Hunter's not involved with the coke, but it's common sense that the cubby would be used as a drop, because Hunter couldn't leave the residence and score with his old dealer."
After Watters' debut, Rolling Stone described the show as "utterly ordinary," calling it a "banal collage of FOX's current pet issues." It could take some time to see if this approach is what FOX viewers want.
Purvis ended her phone call with Watters by extending an invitation to dinner, where the family typically avoids politics. With Watters now carrying the weight of FOX's expectations, it may become tricky for him to heed his mom's advice if a sense of desperation sets in at the network. If the goal is to follow in Tucker Carlson's footsteps, Watters surely knows that rabbit holes are where to find them.