As I sat tweeting about Piers Morgan’s Television Critics Association press tour panel on Thursday (Jan. 6) morning, I received at least a half-dozen messages from Across-the-Pond tweeps. Their sentiments can be boiled down thusly: “He’s your problem now. Good luck.”
Piers Morgan is a polarizing figure.
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Even if I didn’t get that sense from Twitter, I’d probably have gotten the hint from Morgan, who observed, “”I like being polarizing. I think it’s more fun.”
On one hand, the “Celebrity Apprentice” winner, “America’s Got Talent” judge and former British tabloid editor is obviously playing a role.
“It’s a persona,” Morgan admitted to reporters. “It’s served me very well over the years to have that kind of British brashness and frankness and not afraid to share my opinions. If I meet you for a drink after this, you’ll probably find there’s a cuddly warm side of me you might find endearing. Do I want to share that in public? Not very often, no.”
On the other hand, Morgan’s persona clearly isn’t entirely a persona. He name-drops relentlessly and he doesn’t hesitate to diagnose CNN’s myriad ratings problems, maladies for which he’s the cure. Piers Morgan’s Piers Morgan-ness will be a draw for viewers, he hopes, but also for potential guests.
“I think guests are going to have a choice between having a safe, easy five-minute interview to plug their movie, which is in the end quite boring and unmemorable, or they’re going to have the choice of coming on for an hour and jousting with this rather annoying Brit,” Morgan explained. “If they succeed, they’ll be the toast of America. That’s got to be a huge sales pitch, doesn’t it?”
Morgan’s big TCA announcement was that his inaugural guest on his January 17 premiere will be none other than Oprah, telling reporters that what was scheduled as a 45-minute sit-down ended up becoming a two-hour interview that he’s already calling one of the finest of his career.
“I defy any of you to watch the show that airs on the 17th of January and not enjoy it. You may not admit it in public because it would be slightly degrading to do it. I’ve been a TV critic. But I think it is,” Morgan said.
Morgan added, “I think it was a great interview and I think it will absolutely encapsulate what I’m trying to do.”
If nothing else, the actual interview — conducted at a Beverly Hills hotel, rather than the host’s still-under-construction Los Angeles set — will give CNN something tangible to promo.
“I know these promos are getting tremendously irritating. Even I’m bored by them,” Morgan cracked.
The Oprah interview will be edited down to a hour for its CNN airing, but even that will be more expansive than the interviews usually conducted within the format.
“In an era where most talk shows are bang-bang-bang, come on for seven minutes, plug your album or movie or whatever it may be, I actually believe that there is an appetite out there for compelling one-hour interviews with interesting people,” Morgan pitched. “I just have to make them fabulous and fascinating and fun. We’ve done that in Britain very successfully. It’s one of the reasons I’m here. And I believe it will work here.”
In England, several of Morgan’s interview specials have landed a 36 percent audience share, a media domination he knows better than to expect in his new cable home.
“There’s no doubt that CNN in the past two-and-half years has had its butt kicked by Fox News and MSNBC in primetime…” Morgan acknowledged. “I’d love to get to the position quite quickly where the butt-kicking is reversed a bit.”
Never one to back down to a fight, Morgan was asked about potential confrontations with his yappy cable rivals and responded, quickly, “Bring it on, big boys… I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to the scrap.”
“Piers Morgan Tonight” premieres on CNN on January 17.