By Joe Flint
Fox News announced the departure of Bill O'Reilly in the wake of a sexual-harassment scandal, bringing an end to the popular host's two-decade run at the TV network.
The decision to cut ties with Mr. O'Reilly, a staple of the Fox News Channel since its launch in 1996, is a sea change for both the network and its parent company 21st Century Fox.
Mr. O'Reilly is being swept out of Fox News after revelations that he and the company paid settlements to women who accused him of sexual harassment and verbal abuse. The New York Times report detailing the $13 million paid to five women who worked at or appeared on his show led to dozens of advertisers boycotting his program and brought a slew of negative attention to the company.
"After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O'Reilly have agreed that Bill O'Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel," 21st Century Fox said in a statement Wednesday.
Mr. O'Reilly has denied any wrongdoing, saying he paid settlements to "put to rest any controversies to spare my children." He couldn't immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.
To plug the huge hole in the network's prime-time lineup, Fox News announced it is moving Tucker Carlson up one hour into Mr. O'Reilly's 8 p.m. time slot and putting "The Five" on at 9 p.m., both starting Monday.
In a memo to employees, 21st Century Fox said the decision followed an extensive review completed in collaboration with outside counsel. Co-Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Co-Chairman Lachlan and Chief Executive James, praised Mr. O'Reilly as "one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news" and expressed confidence that the network will continue to be a powerhouse.
"Lastly, and most importantly, we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect," the Murdochs wrote in the memo.
21st Century Fox and News Corp, parent company of The Wall Street Journal, share common ownership.
Fox News and 21st Century Fox initially seemed willing to weather the storm, even as longtime foes of Mr. O'Reilly and the channel, and activists, seized on the scandal as an opportunity to demand his exit. "The O'Reilly Factor" averaged about four million viewers a night, making it one of the highest rated programs in all of cable television.
But inside 21st Century Fox debate grew about whether holding on to Mr. O'Reilly and his ratings was worth the trade-off. Advertisers were withdrawing from his show, and concerns were growing about the message the company was sending by defending Mr. O'Reilly.
Mr. O'Reilly's show had been the anchor of the evening, and his ratings power had boosted viewership for the shows that followed him. To many, he was the face of the network, and it remains to be seen what he may do next.
"He is what people think of when they think of Fox News," said Andrew Tyndall, a television news consultant. If Mr. O'Reilly "goes somewhere else, that could be a real threat to Fox News," he said.
Mr. O'Reilly's departure may bring the old-school era at Fox News to an end. Last year, Fox News Chairman and Chief Executive Roger Ailes resigned after he was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women and an internal investigation revealed a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers. Mr. Ailes denied all of the accusations, and he walked with an exit package worth more than $40 million, a person familiar with the matter said at the time.
After Mr. Ailes's departure, Rupert Murdoch took over as chief executive of Fox News, and his sons, James and Lachlan, pledged their commitment "to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect."
Mr. O'Reilly is the second major star to depart Fox News this year. In January, Megyn Kelly, who used to follow Mr. O'Reilly at 9 p.m., signed a deal with NBC News to host a daily morning show and a Sunday news magazine. Fox News replaced Ms. Kelly with Mr. Carlson and barely missed a beat. His numbers have been strong, usually beating what Ms. Kelly was scoring in the ratings.
Mr. O'Reilly, 67 years old, had recently renewed his contract with Fox News at a salary of more than $20 million annually, people familiar with the matter said.
Write to Joe Flint at [email protected]