There was a time when Larry King would’ve left big shoes to fill. But the constant mispronunciations and inept questions had grown particularly thin. CNN may have chalked up their decision to oust King as a move to attract a new generation of (slightly younger, more hip) viewers, but the truth doesn’t lie – King had overstayed his welcome by more than a few years. Keeping him on the air was nothing short of a farce; the longer CNN kept his show going, the worse they looked. To say King was well past his view-by-date is an understatement.
Many critics have taken issue with King’s replacement – former British Tabloid editor Piers Morgan. A fixture on America’s Got Talent since it’s inception in 2006, he upstaged country singer Trace Adkins in the finale of The Celebrity Apprentice during its inaugural run in 2008. Among other accomplishments on his resume, he judged Britain’s Got Talent and Susan Boyle’s now famous audition. Morgan also isn’t shy with regards to controversy – among many hotbed moments in his career, he has banned Madonna from his new CNN show claiming she’s “too vegan for TV” – whatever that means.
It’s clear that Morgan loves attention – whether it’s his public feud with the material girl, or letting Howard Stern go off on a rant denouncing Jay Leno as a “crook.” It’s also clear that Morgan loves good television. His slogan, “Did you see who was on Piers Morgan Tonight?” isn’t in play for nothing. He clearly wants people talking about him (and his show) whether it’s good or bad.
It’s funny though, as much as Piers Morgan Tonight acts as an extension of his highly polished brand of narcism, it also acts as an image builder. On ATG Morgan comes off as a place card, that show’s role-filling “British judge” – a no-nonsense meanie out for the kill. Yet in the time he’s already been on the air, Morgan seems a bit softer – not afraid to laugh and show venerability. He’s adapted his brand for American television and it works.
But the real question remains – should we care what’s on Piers Morgan Tonight? He’s wrapping up his premiere week tonight and all ready he’s interviewed the likes of Oprah, Howard Stern, Condoleezza Rice, Ricky Gervais. Judging by his week so far, the answer is yes. In four days Morgan has shown the ease of a master interviewer; able to move seamlessly from the frivolous world of entertainment to the high-stakes game of American politics without falter. Already proving himself the anti Larry King, Morgan comes prepared and actually knows what he’s talking about.
But he also has the key anyone in his position needs – curiosity. Morgan has a hankering to break down the walls of celebrity and reveal the human underneath; to find the motivation that drives those we’ve all come to know. With Howard Stern, for example, that meant talking at length about his need to have naked women on the radio. With Oprah, it meant discussing her real reasons for remaining single and not venturing into politics. It may sound a bit superficial to some, but in Morgan’s company, his guests become real people - individuals we want to know a little more about. Morgan makes us care by making even the most overexposed celebutante interesting.
But as much as he’s displaying his softer side, Morgan also knows when he has to be tough. During his interview with Gervais, who is currently dealing with backlash from his recent Golden Globes hosting gig, Morgan grilled him about his comedy and with regards to Charlie Sheen in particular, knowing when you’ve offended people. Gervais took it all in stride and left unscathed. But make no mistake, Morgan had put him in the hot seat.
By displaying his tough side, Morgan showed that he’s willing to demand answers and hold people accountable for their actions. This skill will boast well when he interviews political leaders and those in power. Plus, American television needs someone to man up and ask the tough questions. This trait will undoubtedly make for some very provocative television in the coming months.
Another question, though, still remains – is Morgan the go-to-guy for the important interview? Is Morgan able to be counted on to give a serious interview with the likes of Gabby Giffords or Vladimir Putin or is his bread-and-butter post jail interviews with the likes of Lindsay Lohan? Only time will tell.
During his first week, he’s kept his interview subjects clearly in the realm of entertainment, with the notable exception of Rice. It may be his desire to attract viewers or CNN’s need to get ahold of the market share at 9 p.m., but Morgan should mix it up a bit in the weeks to come. We need to see he’s worth more than just an interviewer of celebrities; that he can hold his own with the most important of people.
He’s fantastic right now, but give him an hour with the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Julian Assange, or Aung San Suu Kyi and I bet he’ll really shine.