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'Blacklist' actor's real-life roles: Marine, NYC firefighter

Actor Hisham Tawfiq has played an impressive range of roles in his own life, from Marine to New York City firefighter to man of faith.

His best-known screen part to date is that of Dembe, stalwart field soldier for criminal mastermind Red (James Spader) on NBC's "The Blacklist." As the season resumes Thursday (9 p.m. EDT), Dembe's loyalty is in question after Red's near-fatal poisoning and he's on the run.

While any actor relishes shifting gears with a character, Tawfiq acknowledges being conflicted in this case.

He recalled receiving the script in which Dembe reveals Red's responsibility in a shooting: "When I read that, my heart dropped and I said, 'No, Dembe wouldn't do that!'"

Tawfiq knows firsthand, however, the twists that life can take. The New York-born actor, who skillfully deploys an African accent as Dembe, took an unexpected journey to a full-time acting career.

FOOTBALL TO FANCY FOOTWORK

When he suffered an injury playing football at his high school in New York City's Harlem, Tawfiq tried a dance class as rehab. His talent was revealed and his love of the arts was sparked. His initial dream of playing college football had already been affected by his father's death when Tawfiq was a senior ("I went down the wrong path"), but given the chance to regroup and pursue sports, he zigzagged.

"I had my choice of going to summer school and to college or to France with a dance company, and I chose France," he said.

MAN IN UNIFORM

He made a snap decision to join the Marines because "I was getting in a little bit of trouble," he recalled. He served during 1990's Desert Storm, but said the challenges he faced had more to do with his faith than the limited combat the bombing operation demanded.

"Being born and raised a Muslim ... I had the battle of serving my country but at the same time standing up for my faith," he said. "So those were most of the challenges I had to deal with when I was serving and when I came home, and it took me a while to come to an understanding" of that.

The more lasting effect was a new sense of determination.

"Once I was in the Marines, I turned things around and made a checklist of everything I wanted to do in my life," including take every available civil service exam. That led first to a yearlong stint as a guard at New York's Sing Sing prison.

"That job was very depressing because, unfortunately, I ran into a lot of the knuckleheads that grew up on my block in Harlem. It became a very toxic environment," Tawfiq said.

TO THE RESCUE

Then the New York City Fire Department called with a job offer at a Harlem fire station, making him one of a small number of African-American firefighters in the city and something special to neighborhood youngsters.

"To actually serve the community I grew up in was amazing, and to represent this superhero-type guy for kids on the block," he said.

He called his two decades in the job "magical," but there were difficult times. As a firehouse newbie, he had to explain to wary colleagues his Sunni Muslim faith, including a tolerance for "people of all races, colors and religions."

"Unfortunately, especially after 9/11 when the word 'Islamophobia' hit the scene, a lot of that (distrust) was turned against me. I found it very strange after 10 years of leading by example and responding to 9/11. Having to defend my faith against people I had worked with was kind of disheartening."

ACTING TRIUMPHS

His firefighting duties didn't keep him from taking acting classes on the side and auditioning for parts when possible. But then the character of Dembe Zuma was gradually expanded from a one-episode appearance to a key part of Red's life.

Said series creator and executive producer Jon Bokenkamp: "Hisham simply has a great presence, both on screen and in person."

The drama became another crossroad for Tawfiq.

"As I was getting to my 20th-anniversary year (in 2015) with the fire department, 'Blacklist' offered me a series regular role. It was a little scary at first: All of my life, I had been working a job and getting a paycheck every two weeks. And even though I was passionate about the arts, I was the oldest of five brothers, both my parents had passed away and I felt I had an obligation to take care of them," as well as his own family, including his teenage son.

Tawfiq decided to accept the change, he said, "as the blessing and gift that was presented to me."

Next up: He's working on a documentary with his wife, Spirit, about the experiences of African-American firefighters.

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This story has been updated to correct the first name of Tawfiq's wife to Spirit.

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Lynn Elber can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.

O'Reilly out at Fox News Channel, still denies allegations

Fox News Channel's parent company fired Bill O'Reilly on Wednesday following an investigation into harassment allegations, bringing a stunning end to cable news' most popular program and one that came to define the bravado of his network over 20 years.

O'Reilly lost his job on the same day he was photographed in Rome shaking the hand of Pope Francis.

The downfall of Fox's most popular — and most lucrative — personality began with an April 2 report in The New York Times that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about disturbing encounters with O'Reilly, who continued to deny any wrongdoing in a statement hours after he was fired. Dozens of his show's advertisers fled within days, even though O'Reilly's viewership increased.

O'Reilly's exit came nine months after his former boss, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, was ousted following allegations of sexual harassment.

Following the Times story, 21st Century Fox said it had asked the same law firm that investigated Ailes to look into O'Reilly's behavior. 21st Century Fox leaders Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James said in a memo to Fox staff that their decision to ax O'Reilly came following an "extensive review" into the charges.

"I understand how difficult this has been for many of you," Rupert Murdoch said in a memo to Fox staff.

O'Reilly, denied a chance to say goodbye to his Fox viewers, did so via a statement.

"It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims," he said. "But that is the unfortunate reality that many of us in the public eye must live with today. 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."

O'Reilly's dismissal doesn't signal any change of direction for the network: Fox said conservative pundit Tucker Carlson would move into O'Reilly's time slot — the second time in three months he's replaced an exiting prime-time personality. Carlson, a veteran who has hosted shows on CNN, MSNBC and PBS, had taken over for Megyn Kelly in January when she announced she was moving to NBC News. "The Five," a talk show with five rotating hosts that regularly airs at 5 p.m. ET, will move into the 9 p.m. time slot. Eric Bolling will host a new show that airs at 5 p.m. starting next month, the company said.

O'Reilly, 67, had ruled the "no spin zone" on television with a quick smile and an even quicker temper. He pushed a populist, conservative-leaning point of view born from growing up on Long Island, and was quick to shout down those who disagreed with him. Fans loved his willingness to talk back to power or point out hypocrisy among liberal politicians or media members.

O'Reilly and President Donald Trump are both "crowd-pleasing showmen who know how to signal to loyalists in their audience that they are not taking themselves quite as seriously as their detractors are," said news consultant Andrew Tyndall. "Half of the fun that they have with their audiences comes from watching the outrage that they manage to provoke."

"What Rush Limbaugh was to talk radio, Bill O'Reilly has been to conservative television," said Mark Feldstein, communication professor at the University of Maryland. "You can't underestimate the influence and the profits that he brought into Fox News for all these years and that's why they hesitated so long in doing the right thing."

His show generated $178 million in advertising revenue in 2015, according to Kantar Media. Before the advertising boycott, there was the prospect of even more: his audience was larger in the first three months of 2017 than it has ever been. With a profit center gone, 21st Century Fox stock fell almost 1 percent Wednesday in heavy trading.

O'Reilly's pugnacious personality wasn't just an onscreen affectation, with one of the settlements going to a woman who complained about being shouted at in the newsroom. One harassment case, from a former producer who said O'Reilly called her and described sexual fantasies and appeared to be masturbating, dated back more than a decade and was widely reported then. While O'Reilly survived then, the accumulation of cases outlined in the Times damaged him much more extensively.

For Fox executives, it wasn't clear when it would end: a campaign to target advertisers was continuing, a group of women demonstrated in front of Fox's headquarters Tuesday and another woman, a former clerical worker at Fox, called a harassment hotline and accusing the host of boorish behavior.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed O'Reilly was in the VIP section for the pope's Wednesday appearance. Francis always swings by the VIP seats at the end of his audience for a quick round of handshakes. A photographer from the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano snapped a photo of Francis reaching out to shake his hand.

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AP writers Nicole Winfield in Rome; Hillel Italie and Marley Jay in New York; and Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

O'Reilly's departure creates new challenges for Fox

With its biggest star departing in another blowup over sexual harassment, Fox News faces some big challenges. It now has to show that it can hang on to its loyal army of conservative viewers, improve its working culture, and still continue to make big bucks for its corporate parent.

The company said Wednesday that it had parted ways with longtime host Bill O'Reilly after a "thorough and careful review of allegations against him." Dozens of advertisers ditched "The O'Reilly Factor" after a New York Times report detailed $13 million in payouts to five women over his alleged abusive behavior; more allegations subsequently emerged. (O'Reilly denied the accusations.)

O'Reilly's departure is the second big blow for conservatives' favorite news network in nine months. Fox's longtime CEO Roger Ailes resigned abruptly amid similar sexual harassment charges last July. Its leading female star, Megyn Kelly, also decamped for NBC in January.

The network's parent company, entertainment giant 21st Century Fox, insisted that Fox News will weather the current storm, noting in a statement the "strength of its talent bench" and expressing "full confidence that the network will continue to be a powerhouse in cable news."

That certainly could happen, though it probably won't be easy.

MONEY MACHINE

Some analysts believe that James and Lachlan Murdoch — the sons of 21st Century Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch — made the call on O'Reilly to change the Ailesian culture at the network and to cement their control following his departure.

"Getting rid of the old guard is a way to do that," said Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the author of "Fox News & American Politics: How One Channel Shapes American Politics & Society."

But O'Reilly has been on Fox News for more than two decades. "The O'Reilly Factor" has generated a huge ad bonanza for Fox, one that yielded more than $178 million in 2015. It's the top-rated show on the No. 1 cable network — one that, according to the investment bank Nomura's estimates, accounts for fully 20 percent of profits at 21st Century Fox.

Now, the top ratings for O'Reilly's time slot — and Fox's other prime-time shows — could be at risk. "He's been the linchpin" of the lineup, said Jane Hall, an American University professor and former Fox contributor, who noted that it will take a while to see whether his loyal audience sticks with O'Reilly's replacement.

That will be Tucker Carlson, whose show is moving to the 8 p.m. slot on Fox. O'Reilly's ratings overshadow Carlson's, and his show's viewership fell this week while he was on vacation and other Fox hosts subbed in.

Others figure that O'Reilly's firing won't be a sticking point for most Fox viewers. "When we look at data, at what programs people report watching, you just don't find people who watch Bill O'Reilly and nothing else on Fox," Cassino said.

Fox also has a big financial safety cushion in the fees cable companies pay the network, which dwarf its ad revenue, according to Nomura media analyst Anthony DiClemente. Even if there's some disruption in ad rates or spots, he said, there's a "massive backstop" in those payments, which are long-term deals.

BROADER AMBITIONS

Fox might also have found it financially risky let O'Reilly remain. Otherwise, the network risked developing "a reputation as unfriendly to women, potentially turning off a lot of people," said Charles Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova University. Advertisers may have been reluctant to return if there were continuing harassment complaints. It could also have alienated employees.

And 21st Century Fox is much bigger than O'Reilly, Fox News and its aging, conservative audience. It's home to movie and TV studios; a slew of sports and other cable channels; and the Fox broadcast network and shows like "The Simpsons," ''Family Guy," and its latest hit, "Empire."

It's also home to ambitions that the O'Reilly crisis may have hindered. Fox owns 39 percent of European TV giant Sky, and has long wanted to take over the whole company. Its previous effort died in 2011, a casualty of the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers. It's now trying again, although a U.K. media regulator must certify that the combined company would be a "fit and proper" owner of the broadcaster.

"Credit to James and Lachlan for doing the right thing here," said DiClemente, who noted that dealing with the O'Reilly controversy "in the right way" could be helpful for the Sky review.

The U.S. Attorney's office in New York is investigating how 21st Century Fox handled the Roger Ailes scandal. Concern over whether Fox broke the law by failing to disclose its settlements to investors is more likely to impact approval than whether the company is mired in sexual misconduct allegations, said Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, who has studied the Murdoch empire for years.

TALKING CULTURE CHANGE

When it announced Ailes' departure last summer, 21st Century Fox said that it would "continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect." But the New York Times reported that two of the O'Reilly settlements were reached after Ailes left.

In a Wednesday memo to employees signed by all three Murdochs and provided to The Associated Press, Fox again emphasized its commitment to a workplace culture of "trust and respect." The company is making "a pretty big statement" to that effect by dropping O'Reilly, said Hall, the American University professor.

Longtime Fox critics don't see it. Fox News has a "culture of harassment that did not start and does not end with Bill O'Reilly," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of the activist group Color of Change, which pressured advertisers to leave his show. Ousting O'Reilly, he said, "does not speak to a changed culture. It speaks to a company that has recognized that the best business decision for them is to end their relationship with Bill O'Reilly."

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Jill Lawless from London contributed to this report.

A few heated, barbed interludes with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly

Over the years, "The O'Reilly Factor" was a forum for heated exchanges led by host Bill O'Reilly and, appearing elsewhere on Fox News Channel, he was often ready with a barbed remark. Here are a few examples:

— 2003: Jeremy Glick, the son of a Port Authority worker killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, proposed that CIA support of anti-Soviet Afghan fighters in the late 1970s and 1980s had provided the training for what would later emerge as the organization responsible for the terrorist attacks. O'Reilly roared that Glick had dishonored the memory of his father, repeatedly ordered him to "shut up!" and finally cut Glick's microphone "out of respect" for Glick's father.

— 2007: Jesse Lange, a 16-year-old student from Boulder, Colorado, was criticized by O'Reilly for defending his high school's sex and drug education conference. O'Reilly misquoted a conference speaker in arguing that the speaker had condoned drug use, but Lange, citing a conference transcript, fired back with the actual quote. "I know what you pinheads do," O'Reilly told the student.

— 2009: Conservative pundit Ann Coulter joined O'Reilly on the occasion of Dr. George Tiller's murder. They saluted themselves on their respective condemnation of the Kansas abortion-rights advocate during his career, and O'Reilly let pass a Coulter wisecrack about Tiller's "terminating in the 203rd trimester."

— 2011: During a guest appearance. "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart tangled with O'Reilly over the rapper Common. O'Reilly argued that Common's alleged support of a cop killer should have made him unfit to be invited to perform at the White House. Stewart replied that other artists including Bob Dylan, Bono and Bruce Springsteen have written songs about people convicted of murder. "Why are you drawing the line at Common?" Stewart posed. "There is a selective outrage machine here at Fox that pettifogs only when it suits the narrative that suits them." Stewart then proposed something they could agree on that would benefit cops in a more than metaphorical way: "Let's us agree to promote a reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons .... It tries to get weapons that kill cops literally off the streets." O'Reilly was noncommittal.

— 2013: Fox News liberal voice Alan Colmes was branded "a liar" by O'Reilly during a discussion on President Barack Obama's budget policies. "Hold it! Hold it! Cause now I'm getting teed off with you," O'Reilly said, cutting off Colmes' attempts at a rebuttal. "You're lying," boomed O'Reilly a half-dozen times, his temper rising. "This is bull-blank!" (O'Reilly said he was sorry the following night.)

— March 2017: U.S. Representative Maxine Waters became the butt of an O'Reilly joke during his guest appearance on "Fox & Friends." After footage was shown of Waters criticizing citizens who support President Donald Trump, O'Reilly dismissed her remarks by laughing that he "didn't hear a word she said" because he was "looking at the James Brown wig," a reference to her hair. (He later apologized.)

Bill O'Reilly's statement following his firing from Fox News

Former Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly issued the following statement following his firing Wednesday:

"Over the past 20 years at Fox News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history, which has consistently informed and entertained millions of Americans and significantly contributed to building Fox into the dominant news network in television. 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. 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."

Internal memo on Bill O'Reilly sent to Fox News employees

The following internal memo was sent to Fox News Channel employees on Wednesday:

"We'd like to address questions about Bill O'Reilly's future at Fox News. After a thorough and careful review of allegations against him, the Company and Bill O'Reilly have agreed that Mr. O'Reilly will not return to the Fox News Channel.

This decision follows an extensive review done in collaboration with outside counsel.

By ratings standards, Bill O'Reilly is one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news. In fact, his success by any measure is indisputable. Fox News has demonstrated again and again the strength of its talent bench. We have full confidence that the network will continue to be a powerhouse in cable news.

Lastly, and most importantly, we want to underscore our consistent commitment to fostering a work environment built on the values of trust and respect.

Best,

Rupert, Lachlan, James

21st Century Fox: Bill O'Reilly won't return to Fox News

21st Century Fox: Bill O'Reilly won't return to Fox News.

The Latest: Fox News addresses O'Reilly departure

The Latest on Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly (all times local):

8:30 p.m.

Fox News addressed the departure of Bill O'Reilly Wednesday night, as the show that used to bear his name debuted as simply "The Factor."

Dana Perino, who has been filling in for O'Reilly since he announced an extended break earlier this month, announced that he was no longer with the network.

Perino said at the top of the show that, "We know you, his loyal viewers, will have a lot of feelings about it."

Both Fox and O'Reilly confirmed O'Reilly's departure from the network earlier Wednesday.

His ouster came after reports that five women had been paid millions of dollars to keep quiet about harassment allegations. O'Reilly has maintained his innocence.

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6:10 p.m.

The National Geographic channel says it has made no decision about its development of Bill O'Reilly's book "Killing Patton" following O'Reilly's exit from Fox News.

In a statement Wednesday, the channel confirmed that the TV adaptation is in early development for 2019. The channel said it was focusing on presenting its 2018 programming to advertisers and wasn't making decisions beyond that for now.

The National Geographic channel has aired a series of adaptations of O'Reilly books, including "Killing Reagan" and "Killing Kennedy." The channel's majority owner is Fox News Channel parent company 21st Century Fox.

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5:15 p.m.

In the wake of his firing Wednesday, former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly maintained that sexual harassment claims against him were not true, calling his dismissal over the allegations "tremendously disheartening."

The network's most popular personality was fired after a New York Time report earlier this month that said five women had been paid $13 million in settlements after they alleged sexual harassment and mistreatment.

O'Reilly, who was with the network for 20 years, said he was proud of his time at Fox. He thanked his viewers and noted the success Fox had achieved.

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2:55 p.m.

Fox News Channel says "Tucker Carlson Tonight" will begin airing an hour earlier to fill the time slot vacated by Bill O'Reilly, who lost his job Wednesday after allegations that he sexually harassed women.

Starting Monday, Carlson's show will be followed at 9 p.m. EDT by "The Five," relocating from its afternoon slot.

"The Five" will be replaced at 5 p.m. EDT by a one-hour program hosted by Eric Bolling, to debut May 1. Next week, "Special Report with Bret Baier" will fill the 5-to-7-p.m. timeslot.

At 7 p.m. EDT, Martha MacCullum remains in place.

The departed O'Reilly's "The Factor" will continue through this week with Dana Perino hosting Wednesday and Thursday night, and Greg Gutfield on Friday.

Rounding out the Fox prime-time lineup, "Hannity" remains at 10 p.m. EDT.

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2:43 p.m.

Bill O'Reilly has lost his job at Fox News Channel following reports that five women had been paid millions of dollars to keep quiet about harassment allegations.

21st Century Fox issued a statement Wednesday that "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.

He had been scheduled to return from a vacation next Monday. O'Reilly was photographed in Rome shaking Pope Francis' hand on Wednesday.

It marks a stunning end to a near perfect marriage between a pugnacious personality and network. For two decades O'Reilly has ruled the "no spin zone" with cable news' most popular show, and his ratings had never been higher.

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1:23 p.m.

Embattled Fox News host Bill O'Reilly had a brief handshake with Pope Francis on Wednesday as sexual harassment allegations dog him at home.

O'Reilly is on a vacation that on Wednesday took him to Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square. His trip came as Fox News Channel's parent company 21st Century Fox is investigating sexual harassment allegations against him. Dozens of his show's advertisers have fled following a report that five women were paid $13 million in settlements after they alleged harassment or mistreatment. O'Reilly has denied wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, he was seated in the VIP section, where a photographer from the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano snapped a photo of Francis reaching out to shake his hand.

Francis always swings by the VIP seats at the end of his audience for a quick round of handshakes.

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1:15 p.m.

There was no immediate response from Bill O'Reilly's bosses Wednesday to escalating reports that the Fox News Channel personality will lose his job following accusations he had harassed women.

New York magazine reported Wednesday, based on unnamed sources, that Rupert Murdoch and sons James and Lachlan, who run Fox parent 21st Century Fox, had decided that O'Reilly was out and executives were planning the exit. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal, a newspaper owned by the Murdochs, wrote that the company was preparing to cut ties with O'Reilly.

The New York Times reported April 1 that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about unpleasant encounters with O'Reilly, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, on vacation in Rome Wednesday, O'Reilly shook Pope Francis' hand.

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This story has been corrected to show that the downfall of O'Reilly began with an April 1, not April 2 report in The New York Times.

Fox News Channel dismisses O'Reilly, its biggest star

Fox News Channel's parent company fired Bill O'Reilly on Wednesday following an investigation into harassment allegations, bringing a stunning end to cable news' most popular program and one that came to define the bravado of his network over 20 years.

O'Reilly lost his job on the same day he was photographed in Rome shaking the hand of Pope Francis. By the evening, "The O'Reilly Factor" no longer bore his name, simply titled "The Factor."

The downfall of Fox's most popular — and most lucrative — personality began with an April 1 report in The New York Times that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about disturbing encounters with O'Reilly, who continued to deny any wrongdoing in a statement hours after he was fired. Dozens of his show's advertisers fled within days, even though O'Reilly's viewership increased.

O'Reilly's exit came nine months after his former boss, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, was ousted following allegations of sexual harassment.

Following the Times story, 21st Century Fox said it had asked the same law firm that investigated Ailes to look into O'Reilly's behavior. 21st Century Fox leaders Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James said in a memo to Fox staff that their decision to ax O'Reilly came following an "extensive review" into the charges.

"I understand how difficult this has been for many of you," Rupert Murdoch said in a memo to Fox staff.

O'Reilly, denied a chance to say goodbye to his Fox viewers, did so via a statement.

"It is tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims," he said. "But that is the unfortunate reality that many of us in the public eye must live with today. 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."

O'Reilly's dismissal doesn't signal any change of direction for the network: Fox said conservative pundit Tucker Carlson would move into O'Reilly's time slot — the second time in three months he's replaced an exiting prime-time personality. Carlson, a veteran who has hosted shows on CNN, MSNBC and PBS, had taken over for Megyn Kelly in January when she announced she was moving to NBC News. "The Five," a talk show with five rotating hosts that regularly airs at 5 p.m. ET, will move into the 9 p.m. time slot. Eric Bolling will host a new show that airs at 5 p.m. starting next month, the company said.

Dana Perino, who had been subbing for O'Reilly who had been on vacation for the past few days, acknowledged his departure at the top of "The Factor." At the end of the show, she paid him a warm tribute.

Noting the "dramatic changes," Perino said: "It is the end of the era . Bill has been the undisputed king of cable news, and for good reason."

She also noted his devoted fans and their loyalty to the show.

O'Reilly, 67, had ruled the "no spin zone" on television with a quick smile and an even quicker temper. He pushed a populist, conservative-leaning point of view born from growing up on Long Island, and was quick to shout down those who disagreed with him. Fans loved his willingness to talk back to power or point out hypocrisy among liberal politicians or media members.

O'Reilly and President Donald Trump are both "crowd-pleasing showmen who know how to signal to loyalists in their audience that they are not taking themselves quite as seriously as their detractors are," said news consultant Andrew Tyndall. "Half of the fun that they have with their audiences comes from watching the outrage that they manage to provoke."

"What Rush Limbaugh was to talk radio, Bill O'Reilly has been to conservative television," said Mark Feldstein, communication professor at the University of Maryland. "You can't underestimate the influence and the profits that he brought into Fox News for all these years and that's why they hesitated so long in doing the right thing."

His show generated $178 million in advertising revenue in 2015, according to Kantar Media. Before the advertising boycott, there was the prospect of even more: his audience was larger in the first three months of 2017 than it has ever been. With a profit center gone, 21st Century Fox stock fell almost 1 percent Wednesday in heavy trading.

O'Reilly's pugnacious personality wasn't just an onscreen affectation, with one of the settlements going to a woman who complained about being shouted at in the newsroom. O'Reilly was alleged to have slowed the careers of women who spurned his advances. One former Fox personality, Juliet Huddy, said she pulled away and fell to the ground when he tried to kiss her, and he didn't help her up, the Times reported.

One harassment case, from a former producer who said O'Reilly called her and described sexual fantasies and appeared to be masturbating, dated back more than a decade and was widely reported then. While O'Reilly survived then, the accumulation of cases outlined in the Times damaged him much more extensively. For Fox executives, it wasn't clear when it would end: a campaign to target advertisers was continuing, a group of women demonstrated in front of Fox's headquarters Tuesday and another woman, a former clerical worker at Fox, called a harassment hotline and accusing the host of boorish behavior.

Some of O'Reilly's critics were happy with the news.

Author Stephen King tweeted: "New book by Fox News: Killing Bill O'Reilly." It referred to O'Reilly's series of best-selling books on the deaths of major historical figures.

"Mission accomplished," said Keith Olbermann, who frequently tweaked O'Reilly on an MSNBC show that competed in the same time slot for several years. Olbermann said that when he was working at Fox Sports in 1999, he helped a friend get a job at Fox News. She quit the job — and the business — due to her treatment by O'Reilly, he said.

"This has been going on for decades and I hope his having to go out in shame and disgrace makes things just a little bit better for her and all his victims right now," he said. "Certainly they make things better for America."

But many of O'Reilly's fans took to social media to express their unhappiness at losing their hero. Several suggested that Fox had essentially caved to a left wing campaign. It didn't help that the controversy was set in motion by the Times, a publication hated in conservative circles.

O'Reilly's lawyers said he was the victim of an orchestrated campaign by liberal organizations like Media Matters for America, which contacted his advertisers to pressure them to leave the show. Conservative personality Glenn Beck — who once lost a job at Fox because a similar campaign choked his program of paying advertisers — came to O'Reilly's defense on his radio show.

"You need to write and call Fox News Channel today and tell them, you can lose your advertisers or you can lose your viewers," Beck said on his radio show hours before the firing. "But you have to put some spine back into the Murdoch family and the Fox News Channel board because you are about to lose Bill O'Reilly."

He was too late.

O'Reilly is also one of the country's most popular nonfiction authors. The books in his "Killing" historical series, including "Killing Lincoln" and "Killing Reagan," have consistently sold 1 million or more copies in hardcover, a rare achievement in publishing, and his platform on Fox enabled him to promote his work. He has also had best-sellers with everything from the memoir "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity" to his most recent work, "Old School," which includes passages urging the respectful treatment of women.

O'Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard are due to release another book in the "Killing" series in September, and a spokeswoman for publisher Henry Holt and Co. said that plans had not changed.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed O'Reilly was in the VIP section for the pope's Wednesday appearance. Burke, a former Fox News correspondent in Rome, denied having facilitated the tickets. Such tickets can be obtained via special request to the papal household from embassies, high-ranking churchmen or Vatican officials.

Francis always swings by the VIP seats at the end of his audience for a quick round of handshakes. A photographer from the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano snapped a photo of Francis reaching out to shake his hand.

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AP writers Nicole Winfield in Rome; Hillel Italie and Marley Jay in New York; and Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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This story has been corrected to show that the downfall of O'Reilly began with an April 1, not April 2 report in The New York Times.

'SNL' time zone shift pays dividends with big boost

NBC's decision to air a live version of "Saturday Night Live" in every time zone has paid immediate dividends.

The network's telecast last weekend, with host Jimmy Fallon, musician Harry Styles and with Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy delivering their hit impersonations of Donald Trump and Sean Spicer, was seen by 7.87 million people, or 21 percent more than the previous week's telecast, the Nielsen company said.

For the first time, NBC decided to air the show live from New York in the Mountain and Pacific time zones — then repeat it in the show's customary 11:30 p.m. time slot. Nielsen did not immediately have exact numbers on how much this decision boosted viewership. But counting both airings, overnight ratings among young viewers in the two Western time zones more than doubled over the previous week's telecast.

Among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic last week, "Saturday Night Live" had more viewers than all prime-time shows except "The Big Bang Theory" and "Empire."

It has been a banner year for NBC's comedy institution. When people who record the show and watch within a week are counted in, the typical "Saturday Night Live" edition is seen by 10.9 million people each week, Nielsen said. That doesn't even count the way many people view late-night comedy these days, through clips spotted online.

The television viewership is up 29 percent over last year and, NBC said, is the show's best season since 1993-94.

The show typically does well in election years. What makes this season different is the audience has remained strong after the election, fueled by Baldwin's indelible Trump impersonation and McCarthy's instant-classic take on the president's press secretary.

CBS won the week in prime-time, averaging 6.6 million viewers. ABC had 4.5 million, NBC had 4.4 million, Fox had 2.5 million, Univision had 1.5 million, Telemundo had 1.2 million, ION Television had 1.1 million and the CW had 900,000.

Fox News Channel was the week's most popular cable network, averaging 2.33 million in prime-time. Boosted by the NBC playoffs, TNT had 1.66 million viewers, HGTV had 1.47 million, MSNBC had 1.466 million and ESPN had 1.31 million.

ABC's "World News Tonight" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 7.61 million viewers. NBC's "Nightly News" had 7.56 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 6.2 million.

For the week of April 10-16, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 11.89 million; "Dancing With the Stars," ABC, 10.31 million; "Stayin' Alive: Grammy Salue to the Bee Gees," CBS, 10.31 million; "The Voice" (Monday, 8 p.m.), NBC, 9.88 million; "Blue Bloods," CBS, 9.43 million; "NCIS," CBS, 9.06 million; "Hawaii Five-0," CBS, 8.49 million; "Survivor," CBS, 8.32 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 8.16 million; "The Voice" (Tuesday), NBC, 7.76 million.

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ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.

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Online: http://www.nielsen.com

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