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CNN taps Piers Morgan to fill Larry King slot

September 08, 2010|By Scott Collins and Matea Gold | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

After months of speculation, Piers Morgan, the British newspaper editor best-known to U.S. audiences as a judge on NBC's "America's Got Talent," has finally completed talks to take over Larry King's weeknight talk show on CNN.

CNN, hoping to bolster its flagging prime-time lineup, has settled on Morgan after delicate and wide-ranging negotiations that cleared numerous obstacles, from the host's visa status to his role as a judge on NBC's summer staple "America's Got Talent," which he is expected to continue.

King, for years the anchor of CNN's nightly programming, announced he was retiring from "Larry King Live" earlier this year. He's expected to wrap the show in December, with Morgan starting early next year.

In Morgan, CNN is getting a brash former tabloid editor with a remarkable capacity for reinvention and a keen sense of the power of fame.

"Piers has made his name posing tough questions to public figures, holding them accountable for their words and deeds," Jon Klein, the president of CNN/US, said in a statement. "He is able to look at all aspects of the news with style and humor with an occasional good laugh in the process. He is a natural fit with Anderson Cooper, Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker in our prime time line-up, and the ideal choice to update the storied tradtiion of newsmaker talk on CNN."

Morgan said in a CNN news release: "I am thrilled to be joining CNN, and very much looking forward to bringing my own style of interviewing to the world's biggest, and best, TV news organization." Morgan has demonstrated a keen ability to push interview subjects to share intimate details about their lives. In his column for the British edition of GQ, he got British politician Nick Clegg to confess he had slept with nearly 30 women and actress Helen Mirren to admit to taking cocaine.

"Morgan's style of questioning, especially on matters of bereavement or illness, is akin to firing tear gas," the UK's The Observer wrote in June, noting that even former Prime Minister Gordon Brown grew teary when he was subjected to a Morgan interview. He appears irritated when celebrities just want a platform to promote their latest project, telling The Guardian, "I hate that chat show thing with people plugging their music or their movie in seven-minute slots. People find them boring."

Real estate impresario Donald Trump, who cast Morgan in the 2008 celebrity edition of "The Apprentice," which he won, said the Brit has more of an instinct to go for the jugular than King. That's a characteristic he's going to have to temper a bit on CNN, Trump added.

"When you do a show five or six nights a week, you can't kill everybody, because you're not going to get anybody to come on the show," he said. "But Piers will have a great take on it….He's going to know just how far to go."

Such skills may help CNN draw attention back to its prime time lineup, which has suffered severely at the hands of competitors Fox News and MSNBC. At one time, King's program was a regular stop for presidential candidates and top celebrities. But ratings for "Larry King Live" have eroded in recent years, along with those for Anderson Cooper and other CNN stars.

The network has increasingly found itself an also-ran in the cable news race. During August, CNN shed 46% of its prime-time viewers compared with a year ago, according to the Nielsen Co. MSNBC and Fox, which have shifted to opinion and away from hard news during prime time, were also down but by much smaller amounts.

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