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'Piers Morgan Tonight' Series Premiere Recap

by Piet Levy, posted Jan 18th 2011 10:25AM
Piers Morgan If brazen CNN ads and a self-serving Twitter feed are to be believed, Piers Morgan, the outspoken TV star from 'Celebrity Apprentice' and 'America's Got Talent,' promises to be a very different talk show host than his mild-mannered predecessor Larry King.

King abdicated his CNN throne last month after 25 years, leaving an illustrious legacy, even if it was no longer a very profitable one. His show 'Larry King Live' suffered a 39 percent drop in its audience last year, contributing to a 35 percent decline in primetime for the network, according to Nielsen.

CNN may have found the right kind of straight-shooting showman in Morgan to fix its prime time problems. But that remains to be seen.

Morgan was surprisingly King-like during much of the premiere of his talk show 'Piers Morgan Tonight' Monday. Interviewing the Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan more than played nice, tossing Winfrey the kind of softballs King was often criticized for, and spewing out patronizing guffaws to keep his guest cozy.

Then, at interview's end, Morgan reserved his final question to ask Winfrey how he had done as an interviewer. Say what you will about King, but that's the sort of self-serving question he'd never waste time asking.



Nevertheless, flashes of Morgan's charm pierced through here and there, and while his chat with Winfrey never proved deeply revelatory, a few questions did take the talk to a few interesting places.

Morgan's very first question was a kiss-up. "Tell me this. Do you ever get sort of surreal moments ... when you wake up in the morning and go, 'Bloody hell, I'm Oprah Winfrey'?" Winfrey took the opportunity to plug her latest project, calling the start of her brand-new network OWN as a surreal moment. Then Oprah made a joke, and Morgan laughed. In all, he forced seven laughs in the first four minutes.

After Winfrey talked highly about friend Gayle King, Morgan built up Winfrey's ego again. "Everything that you touch is a hit. ... Could you just touch me?" Then after Winfrey playfully slapped Morgan's extended hand, he shouted, 'I have got a hit! Oprah Winfrey has touched me!' True, the self-serving Morgan can at times be a bit grating, but a Morgan who bends over backwards to flatter his guests is far more annoying -- and far less interesting.

Finally at 24 minutes, the interview went somewhere unexpected. After Winfrey described her brand as "the love brand," Morgan asked her how many times has she properly been in love, to which Winfrey replied "You are good." She admitted she had her heart broken two times and that she still has some love letters from an old lover in a safety deposit box. Then, Winfrey opened up about her relationship with partner Stedman Graham, saying it had "worked as well as it has is because we each got to define ourselves in it, and not in a traditional form.")

A few minutes later came the toughest question of the night, when Morgan confronted Winfrey about the child she lost when she was pregnant at 14. Having built a rapport by that point, Winfrey offered another revealing, personal response. "I was 14-years-old and felt nothing but, OK, relief," she said. "Because I thought before the baby was born I would have to kill myself ... When I was 14, your life is over. You're having a baby out of wedlock? Your life is over ... So when the baby died, I knew it was my second chance."

From there the context of the interview started rising to the surface again. Morgan and Winfrey briefly discussed Barack Obama, whom she couldn't give a grade as president because she hadn't paid enough attention to his work -- pretty disappointing. More disappointing still was that Morgan didn't push Winfrey further on why she didn't pay closer attention to the track record of a man she so wholeheartedly endorsed. Morgan talked to Winfrey about her wealth, philanthropy and affection for Martin Luther King, Jr., before he ended the night with that pesky smug question about how he did as an interviewer.

The trick for Morgan going forward will be to conduct interviews that are not self-serving, while at the same time, avoid patronizing his guests. During the first episode of 'Piers Morgan Tonight,' incredibly enough, he did both. A little cockiness can be fun, so long as Morgan remembers to be aggressive and challenging (although never a bully), so that he provokes fascinating discussions that matter to viewers.

For a first night, following in the footsteps of an iconic talk show hosted by a generous interviewer, with a seasoned talk show host devoutly loved by millions of fans as his first guest, Morgan may have been too accommodating. For the most part, he played it safe, and as a result netted just a few deep insights. That may have worked the first night, but over the long haul, safe won't save CNN's prime time ratings.

'Piers Morgan Tonight' airs weeknights at 9PM ET on CNN.

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Chris

I have no idea as to whom thought that Piers Morgan could possibly take the place of Larry King. At least Mr. King had a gift of presentation whereas Piers offers absolutely NOTHING. He is a total waste and I cannot bother to watch him or the show again. Chris

February 03 2011 at 8:15 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
notrigl

Piers could have Jesus as a guest and I stil wouldn't watch his show! CNN's ratings just took anotherblow! They so hyped that show that I'm sick of Piers Morgan before the first show!

January 18 2011 at 1:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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