CNN makes it official: Piers Morgan is the new Larry King
[This blog post has been updated]
CNN's Got Talent.
The ratings-hungry cable news network has finally ended months of speculation, confirming that Brit tabloid journalist Piers Morgan, best known in the United States as one of the judges on NBC's "America's Got Talent," will replace Larry King at 9 p.m. weeknights, starting in January.
CNN, however, focused on the "global media personality" and "veteran newspaper editor"-ness of Morgan's background in making Wednesday's announcement.
Which fell on deaf ears with The Reporters Who Cover Television, who worked up a good head of outrage on a phone news call with Morgan and CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein, over the very idea that CNN was giving to a talent-show host the timeslot held for years by the iconic King -- who refuses to be prepped before interviews by his senior executive because he wants to be surprised, and whose proclaimed replacement of choice was Ryan Seacrest.
Morgan's as-yet-unnamed show will debut early next year -- a few weeks after King signs off. While Morgan's show will air on CNN International in more than 200 countries, the big hope is that Morgan's cheeky style will goose the ratings domestically on the cable news network, which fumbled nearly 50 percent of its primetime audience in August compared to a year ago.
Which brings us to Morgan's official acceptance speech for his long-rumored hire, which was issued to the press early Wednesday:
"As a young journalist in Britain, I watched CNN's astonishing live coverage of the 1991 Gulf War, and felt enthralled by the courage and brilliance of the journalists involved in that coverage," Morgan emoted.
"Years later, I watched Anderson Cooper's visceral reports from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and felt equally enthralled by his passionate and relentless search for the truth. Perhaps most pertinently, I have watched 'Larry King Live' for much of the last 25 years, and dreamed of one day filling the legendary suspenders of the man I consider to be the greatest TV interviewer of them all.
"To now have the chance to work with Larry and Anderson, and to try and continue the outstanding journalistic legacy created by them, and so many others at CNN, is both a great honor, and a great challenge."
Eve Harrington couldn't have said it better.
CNN acknowledged that Morgan is best known in this country as That Simon Cowell-esque Judge on the NBC show "America's Got Talent" which is "No. 1-rated," impetuously deciding to leave out the important qualifier "during the summer."
It was this gig that had Reporters Who Cover Television in a froth on an afternoon conference call with Morgan and Klein. That included one media columnist who wanted to know what CNN was thinking when it named someone who was "not a journalist" to the gig.
"Slow down!" Morgan snapped. "You can't glibly call me a non-journalist."
"I was a journalist for 25 years on Fleet Street," the newly named CNN host added.
When the columnist amended the question and asked if Morgan was going to have a problem winning viewers because he was "not known" as a journalist in the United States, Morgan meowed, "I will if eminent journalists such as yourself inform your readers I'm not a journalist." Morgan then suggested they go do some, you know, actual reporting on his background before writing about him. It's a pity the phone call wasn't televised.
The reporters on the call also wanted Klein to tell them what ratings he needed the show to earn and by when, so they'd know when they can call it a failure. Klein, having been born earlier than yesterday, demurred.
In addition to his hosting gig on "America's Got Talent," Morgan was also the winner of the first edition of NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice." That is to say, Donald Trump declared him the winner.
But, CNN stressed in its un-read-by-journalists announcement, Morgan has had a long career in journalism in the United Kingdom as a newspaper editor and, more recently, as the host of the TV interview series, "Piers Morgan's Life Stories."
"He will now bring his penetrating interview style and gift for unearthing the surprising detail to American television and to CNN viewers around the globe," the cable news network said.
Did you know Morgan once got a British politician to confess he had slept with nearly 30 women?
"Piers has made his name posing tough questions to public figures, holding them accountable for their words and deeds," Klein said in the announcement, noting Morgan is a "natural fit" with Anderson Cooper -- and with Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker, whose new 8 p.m. show, "Parker Spitzer," will be Morgan's lead-in. "Parker Spitzer" is debuting on Oct. 4.
In case you're more curious than reporters on the phone call: Morgan began his career as a reporter for The Wimbledon News and, when he was 28 years old, Rupert Murdoch appointed him the youngest ever editor of the yeasty tabloid News of the World. He moved to the Daily Mirror, where he served as editor-in-chief until 2004.
In its announcement CNN acknowledged his departure from that publication was "controversial" without elaborating. According to a Washington Post clip from that time, Morgan exited after the newspaper printed photos of alleged Iraqi prisoners being allegedly abused by alleged British soldiers that turned out to be a hoax.
But, like so many before him, Morgan rose from the ashes like the phoenix, to become an author, a media columnist, host of interview programs, and judge alongside Simon Cowell on Britain's No.1-rated show "Britain's Got Talent." Our fave Morgan show, based on name alone, is the British program "You Can't Fire Me, I'm Famous."
Piers also developed "Life Stories," the U.K. talk show that is "Larry King Live"-ish, in that it consists of lengthy one-on-one sit-down interviews with celebrities and politicians, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown. That show, CNN said, has been the No. 1-rated talk show in Britain for the last two years.
Reporters kvetching about Morgan's hire missed another searchable fact, related to the journalistic chops of the gent he's replacing: In a June interview that coincided with King's announcement of his decision to step down from his CNN primetime show after 25 years and more than 40,000 interviews, his longtime senior executive producer Wendy Walker told The Post's Howard Kurtz (who also works for CNN), "I'll try to brief him, but he really doesn't have any interest...His theory is that if he's not surprised, he won't ask the right questions."
Morgan has been with NBC's "America's Got Talent" since it launched in the summer of '06 and will continue on that NBC series while adding his CNN gig to his repertoire.
Lisa de Moraes
September 8, 2010; 9:04 PM ET
Categories: TV News
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