Bill O'Reilly, replaced at Fox News by Tucker Carlson, calls his ouster 'tremendously disheartening'

Fox News has officially cut ties with its biggest prime-time star, Bill O’Reilly, following sexual harassment claims lodged against him.

“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.

O’Reilly — the network’s signature talent who used his cable news fame to become a best-selling author, live tour attraction and TV producer — has been off the air since April 12. He was scheduled to return from a vacation Monday, but instead he will be replaced by Tucker Carlson, who hosts the 9 p.m. Eastern hour that follows O’Reilly’s show.

On Wednesday afternoon, O’Reilly released a statement saying “it is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.”

“But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today,” he said. “I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”

Carlson, who joined the network’s weekday lineup last year and moved to fill Megyn Kelly’s time period in January, will be a part of a major shakeup of the Fox News program lineup triggered by O’Reilly’s departure.

Fox News is also moving its 5 p.m. Eastern discussion show “The Five” to fill Carlson’s 9 p.m. time slot. The replacement for “The Five” will be a new program hosted by Eric Bolling, who is one of the panelists.

O’Reilly’s behavior has been under scrutiny since an April 1 report in the New York Times that said he and Fox News have paid $13 million in settlements against women who have accused him of sexual harassment or abusive behavior going back to 2002. As a result, advertisers moved their spots out of his program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” which has the highest ratings in cable news.

The matter reached a crisis level this week. The law firm Paul Weiss is investigating a claim that O’Reilly reneged on offering a paid contributor’s job to Wendy Walsh, a frequent guest on his program, after she spurned his advances at a dinner meeting in 2013.

Walsh does not have a legal claim against O’Reilly due to the statute of limitations on harassment cases in New York and California, but she did report the matter to the human resources hotline of the company earlier this month.

On Tuesday, 21st Century Fox received an anonymous complaint against O’Reilly from a black female employee who claimed that the anchor had “leered” at her and referred to her as “hot chocolate” in 2008.

The decision to oust O’Reilly was a tricky one for Fox News because he is the network’s most popular anchor. But the Murdoch family, which controls Fox News parent 21st Century Fox, faced pressure to act in the face of mounting negative publicity surrounding the sexual harassment claims against O’Reilly.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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UPDATES:

3:10 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Bill O’Reilly.

12:19 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about personnel changes at Fox News.

This article was originally published at 11:35 a.m.

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