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CNN: Piers Morgan Taking Larry King’s Seat in January

CNN gets the deal done for its new star: Piers Morgan

Finally, CNN's got talent.

The cable news network announced Wednesday morning that starting in January, Piers Morgan would be hosting a live interview show in the 9 p.m. slot long held by Larry King.

As TheWrap has reported time and again, the deal has been nearly done for weeks. The British media personality will be taking the slot at the beginning of next year, Jon Klein announced in a statement.

“Piers has made his name posing tough questions to public figures, holding them accountable for their words and deeds,” said Klein. “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 primetime line up, and the ideal choice to update the storied tradition of newsmaker talk on CNN.”

King announced June 29 that he's stepping down as the host of "Larry King Live" after a quarter century as CNN's main man in primetime.

His departure came amid the dual specter of declining ratings and a messy divorce scandal. King's viewership was down 55 percent in July, but sources at CNN told TheWrap that his personal problems were the ultimate reason for his exit.

King's issues weren't the only problem at the network. Ratings are down across the board at CNN — and there are several shaky spots in its lineup. In June, CNN announced a new show hosted by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer to fill its 8 p.m. hour after Campbell Brown left with disappointing numbers. In July, TheWrap exclusively reported that CNN's star anchor Anderson Cooper is unhappy and potentially considering other options. 

CNN has repeatedly denied TheWrap's reports of troubled times. 

British tabloids began naming Morgan as King's replacement as early as June 14. An individual with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap that Morgan's representatives approached CNN to throw his name in the mix.

Morgan, known to U.S. audiences as a judge on NBC's "America's Got Talent" and a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice," has a much higher profile back in England, where he conducts interview specials for the BBC and Channel 4 and writes newspaper columns.

And much like his predecessor, Morgan's seen his share of scandals back in the U.K.

TheWrap exclusively reported that an agreement between Morgan and CNN was imminent July 13, and that his contract with NBC was the last obstacle to a deal. Two weeks later, NBC entertainment president Jeff Gaspin confirmed to TheWrap that the network had negotiated a new deal with Morgan that would allow him to take the CNN job in addition to his duties on "Talent."

Last month, in response to inaccurate media reports that he'd spurned CNN's advances, individuals close to Morgan said the official announcement would be coming within days. 

Morgan has a big job ahead of him now that his long, slow march to CNN is over. With all of the turbulence at the network, CNN needs its gamble on Morgan to pay off.

For the past few years, CNN has pursued a strategy of staying staunchly in the middle of the road as its cable news rivals, Fox and MSNBC, staked out territory on opposite ends of the partisan, political spectrum. CNN's plan may have been admirable, but it hasn't been successful for the network; CNN has seen its audience decline while Fox and MSNBC have both grown. 

CNN's new 8 p.m. show with Spitzer is a roundtable that represents a shift towards more opinionated content for the network. With Morgan, CNN may be trying to chase that hour of commentary with a consumer friendly, entertainment-oriented chat fest.

Celebrity interviews are Morgan's specialty, and CNN seems to have been interested in snagging the star of a top-rated primetime reality series for the 9 p.m. job. "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest was also reportedly in the running; he was certainly King's preferred choice to succeed him. 

"America's Got Talent" doesn't have the longevity or the numbers of "American Idol," and Morgan is hardly the kind of marquee presence on the show that Seacrest is. While Morgan lacks in name recognition, his experience as an interviewer and the primetime slot should ensure that he books some interesting interviews.

CNN's full press release announcing Morgan is below …

Piers Morgan to Host Prime Time Interview Program on CNN

               Global media personality and veteran newspaper editor Piers Morgan will host a candid, in-depth  newsmaker interview program on CNN beginning in January, it was announced today by Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S.  The new program will air weeknights on CNN/U.S. at 9 pm ET/PT and will air worldwide on CNN International in more than 200 countries. 

               Known to United States viewers primarily for his role as a judge on NBC’s No.1-rated America’s Got Talent and as the winner of Celebrity Apprentice, Morgan has had a long career in journalism in the United Kingdom as a newspaper editor and, more recently, as the host of the popular television interview program Piers Morgan’s Life Stories. He will now bring his penetrating interview style and gift for unearthing the surprising detail to American television and to CNN viewers around the globe.

               “Piers has made his name posing tough questions to public figures, holding them accountable for their words and deeds,” said Klein.  “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 tradition of newsmaker talk on CNN.”

               Morgan began his career as a reporter for The Wimbledon News and then as a columnist at The Sun.  In 1994, when Morgan was 28 years old, Rupert Murdoch appointed him the youngest ever editor of the News of the World, and the youngest national newspaper editor in Britain for 50 years. Two years later he moved to the Daily Mirror, where he served as editor-in-chief from 1995 until 2004. The paper won numerous journalistic awards including Newspaper of the Year at the prestigious British Press Awards in 2002 for its coverage of the 9/11 terrorist atrocity in New York. After his controversial departure from the Mirror, Morgan went on to become a best-selling author, a regular media columnist, and host of his own interview programs on the BBC and ITV, as well as appear as a judge alongside Simon Cowell on the No.1-rated show Britain’s Got Talent.

               “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,” said Morgan. “As a young journalist in Britain, I watched CNN’s astonishing live coverage of the 1991 Gulf War, and felt enthralled by the courage and brilliance of the journalists involved in that coverage. Years later, I watched Anderson Cooper’s visceral reports from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and felt equally enthralled by his passionate and relentless search for the truth. Perhaps most pertinently, I have watched Larry King Live for much of the last 25 years, and dreamed of one day filling the legendary suspenders of the man I consider to be the greatest TV interviewer of them all. To now have the chance to work with Larry and Anderson, and to try and continue the outstanding journalistic legacy created by them, and so many others at CNN,  is both a great honor, and a great challenge.”

               After leaving the Daily Mirror, Morgan began writing a monthly interview column for GQ magazine where he interviewed some of the biggest names in global entertainment and politics.  In 2004, he moved into television, co-hosting a Channel 4 current affairs show, Morgan & Platell, and two BBC interview shows, Tabloid Tales andYou Can’t Fire Me I’m Famous. In 2008, Morgan joined ITV, where he hosted a documentary travelogue show called Piers On…, reporting from cities including Shanghai, Las Vegas and Dubai. He also developed a new talk show, Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, where he conducts one-on-one intimate and lengthy sit-down interviews with celebrities, business and political leaders, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It has been consistently the No. 1-rated talk show in Britain for the last two years.

               Morgan will continue to write his two regular columns for the Mail on Sunday newspaper – one on sports, the other a weekly diary of his life, and he will also provide regular columns toCNN.com.

               Morgan is an accomplished author, writing eight books including three best-selling volumes of diaries:  The Insider, Don’t You Know Who I Am, and the recently published God Bless America.

               He is also co-founder and editorial director of First News, Britain’s first ever national newspaper for children.

               Morgan re-married in June, to CeliaWalden, and has three sons from his first marriage – Spencer, Stanley and Bertie.

               He will be based in New York, and also work from Los Angeles and London.

CNN Worldwide, a division of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner Company, is the most trusted source for news and information. Its reach extends to nine cable and satellite television networks; one private place-based network; two radio networks; wireless devices around the world; CNN Digital Network, the No. 1 network of news Web sites in the United States; CNN Newsource, the world’s most extensively syndicated news service; and strategic international partnerships within both television and the digital media.