Piers Morgan Half Term Report
Big fanfare: Piers Morgan has taken over Larry King’s 9pm interview slot on CNN in the US. It’s another stage in Morgan’s serial relaunching of himself: from celeb columnist to Daily Mirror editor to disgraced editor to Britain and America’s Got Talent judge to celeb interviewer. In the UK, his ITV series Piers Morgan’s Life Stories regularly pulled almost 5 million viewers, and earned him over £2 million a year. Now in the US, he gets more dollars than he does viewers.
Piers gets an average audience of around 750,000 (in a country of 350 million), trailing his direct competitors like Hannity on Fox. His interview style is that of the neighbourhood pest who rings people’s doorbells and then runs away. He sets up The Question We All Want Answered, the One That Will Make Them Squirm, and then meekly accepts any old answer that the PR handlers have prepared in advance. Not for Piers the Paxman comeback. It’s on to the next, giving the exchanges a strange, jerky feel. The title of the slot has dropped the ‘live’ that Larry King used to boast, so Piers Morgan Tonight consists mainly of prerecorded interviews, tightly edited. Sometimes he is in the home of the stars (or at least a set dressed by Bloomingdales) as he was for his opener with Oprah (2.1 million people watched that, at least), but mostly in a studio set that looks startlingly like the Dutch Film and TV archive, Beeld en Geluid. It’s PR with a cheeky Brit up front… but definitely not an edgy one like Ricky Gervais who showbiz keeps for special occasions only. So to British eyes, it feels like a morning sofa show.
Yet still the message boards complain about Piers interrupting. It is bizarre that a culture that tolerates constant interruption for interstitials wants to hear endless monologues from such luminaries as Joel Osteen, the saccharine pastor of the Lakewood Church. He took up a whole show on January 26 (with his wife Victoria by his side of course). Amazingly, Piers allowed him to sit on the fence on every issue, including his condemnation of gays: “Scripture shows it’s wrong, but I’m not one to bash them. There are plenty of sins out there”.
Then along came millions of Egyptians to save Piers’ bacon. CNN news heavies were sent to Cairo. Piers was left minding the store, and his show became a live mid-evening instant reflection on the day’s events. We suddenly saw Piers the Mirror editor who knows and perhaps even cares more than a little about politics. He pulled in the guests, including getting Christiane Amanpour back onto CNN. He fronted a decent live show in a fast-changing situation, giving a distinctive non-American spin to the coverage. He is fluent in the personalizing discourse of foreign affairs journos, who sound as though they know the principle players intimately and can guess their next moves. When people have a real story to tell, he can get it from them in the most vivid and economical way. And his ratings started back up from a disastrous dip (George Clooney being repetitive and unbearably serious about Sudan: 121,000). The schedule went out the window. An interview with Colin Firth was endlessly trailed but not actually shown for a fortnight.
So Piers so far has been an odd mixture. He’s shown himself capable of more than the initial brief of face-to-face interviews, so maybe he’ll be the one to meld together politics and celebrity culture. But he needs some good material, stuff that is new. And this is scarce. CNN should note that his interview with Kim and Kourtney Kardashian (reality TV self-promoters) was almost as low as Clooney’s. But I guess they won’t.
- TONY BLAIR: THE REMATCH. Morgan famously fell out with Blair over Iraq and has bad-mouthed Tony and Cherie ever since. So Blair’s interrogation in an Egypt special was going to be interesting. The best moment was the initial greeting, however:
- MORGAN (bouncy as usual) “Hello Mr Blair, it’s been a while
- BLAIR (glacial) “It has indeed”
For a moment, it looked promising. But then Piers went and spoiled it by reverting to type. Morgan asks Blair if people don’t like him as a Middle East ‘peace’ envoy given his enthusiasm for war in Iraq. Then he accepts the answer “some do, some don’t” with no comeback.
- JANET JACKSON: 100% AMERICAN
- JACKSON “I do so love your accent”
- MORGAN “And I love yours”
- JACKSON “Do I have an accent? I didn’t know”
- REFUSAL TO MANGLE NAMES. While all around him spoke of a ‘Hose-Knee’ Mubarak, Piers stuck steadfastly to the short ‘o’
- Linking to a weatherman live from the worst storm Chicago has suffered for many years. He can hardly stand up in the gale-driven snow, thunder and lightning rolling all around. Piers: “I can’t believe there’s lightning in a snow storm, have you ever seen that before” (weatherman’s feed begins to break up) “I said, isn’t that a bit unusual?”. Piers, if you can’t do weather, you can’t be an American broadcaster. Even I know that.