Monday, January 17, 2011

Piers Morgan CNN era begins tonight with Oprah

Leave it to Piers Morgan to explain why he and all he other blunt Brits do so well on American TV. Morgan was at the cable portion of press tour over a week ago to promote the launch tonight of his new series Piers Morgan Tonight (CNN, 9 p.m.). Morgan, of course, is replacing two thousand year old Larry King. This takes place to the outrage of some including, most recently, Jon Stewart, who wonders why some no-name Brit just stole another job away from an American.
Morgan is far from no-name. Even if one were not aware of his Fleet Street cred, he's been a judge for several seasons on America's Got Talent and won on an early edition of Celebrity Apprentice. Most people have an impression of him as a cocky son-of-a-gun. When I asked him why there were no American-born judges on America's Got Talent, he just looked at me and said, "You've just answered your own question."
He seems to rub a lot of people the wrong way with his smug demeanor and constant hearkening back to that lunch he had with princess Di or his close ties to Tony Blair. He started the press tour session off by dissing Madonna, calling her a washed up has been. "She’s kind of been an irritant in my life for 20 years, so I had to ban her from the show," he told critics. "It’s probably quite childish, but it made me feel better." Why talk to Madonna when you can talk to Lady Gaga, he said. "Lady Gaga is half her age, twice as good looking, twice as talented, and twice as hot. I mean, why would I bother with Madonna, seriously."
Not very gallant, but that's Morgan's shtick. Start a fire and stay close to the heat. You know down the line, likely during sweeps, that lifetime ban will be lifted so Madonna can sit for a very special two hour Piers Morgan Tonight.
Morgan has no problem setting himself up as the villain; in fact, that's his evil plan. Here's the explanation of bossy Brit appeal:
"We have a thing in Britain called pantomime, see," he explained in his post session scrum, "where you have these Christmas theatrical performances where there's aways a baddie. And when the baddie comes out everyone boos and whistles. It's kind of what Simon and me and Gordon Ramsay do in America on TV, where you play the Panto villain."
There it is. Exactly. Piers Morgan is Snidley Whiplash in a designer suit. "Being polarizing is quite fun," says Morgan.
Guess that also explains what Ricky Gervais was up to last night at the Golden Globe Awards.
Morgan's first guest tonight is Oprah Winfrey. Morgan thought he nailed it: "Are my interviews as good as anyone she's done before? She thought so," he said.
The promo clip they've been running to death on CNN shows Morgan asking Oprah how many times she's really been in love. Morgan says he got two hours with her, well past the 40 minutes promised.
I asked Winfrey a few days later in the press tour when she was in Pasadena promoting her OWN network if Morgan really was all that. "May I tell you he is a tough cookie," said Winfrey. "I had to go take a hot bath afterwards." Winfrey admired his tenaciousness. "You have to really be on your toes because he asks the same question three different ways," she says. "The era of the softball question is over at CNN."
Couple of other things about Morgan. He says he took Cowell's advice when it comes to his production staff: "Always imagine everyone who works for you has a badge on their head saying, 'Make me feel special at some stage today.'" He claims he keeps his ego in check thanks to his family motto: "One day you're the cock of the walk, and the next you're a feather duster."
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