Much-anticipated British import makes prime-time CNN debut with Oprah Winfrey Q&A … and tough it was not.
Piers Morgan made his much-anticipated primetime debut on CNN on Monday, six months after the ratings-challenged cable network announced the British journalist and judge on NBC's "America's Got Talent” would take over for Larry King in the 9 p.m. slot.
And for all his talent — and hype as a master interviewer across the pond — Morgan managed to toss more softballs at Oprah Winfrey in an hour than even his time-slot predecessor might have.
That's not to say the interview — taped last week and teased incessantly since — was terrible. Morgan managed to get Oprah to drop some unusual anecdotes — like how she feigned a suicide attempt when she was 14 and pregnant ("I did stupid things like, you know, drinking detergent and all that crazy stuff that you do when you’re trying to get attention, when you’re really just trying to cry for help").
But those moments came at the expense of fellating Oprah's outsized ego (at one point Morgan compared Winfrey to the Queen of England, calling her the "queen" of America), interspersed with Harpo-supplied clips rendering the hour like an OWN infomercial. (Those included one bizarre bumper for the show featuring Gayle King — who helped Morgan nab an interview with Winfrey — congratulating him on his launch.)
Somewhat oddly, except for the very end of the show, Morgan made little mention of Martin Luther King's birthday, despite having arguably the most prominent African-American woman across from him.
The questions that were raised in July at the time of Morgan’s hire remain: Morgan is a household name in Britain, but he has never headlined his own show here in the states. Going with an unproven talent at such a pivotal moment for a cable network that has seen its other new primetime show — “Parker Spitzer” — struggle mightily is a high-stakes gamble.
That's not to say the show is doomed. Morgan is likable, and seems to have a knack for conversation, moreso than King's, uh, blunt style. (For what it's worth, King wished Morgan luck on the medium he's currently most active: Twitter.)
But the success or failure of Piers on CNN is going to depend on the quality of his guests — and whether or not they're willing to play ball.