Welcome to the big time.
Yes, I know you wouldn’t hesitate to run through a litany of your primetime successes as a judge on “America’s Got Talent” or a “Celebrity Apprentice” winner. Your now-familiar elevator speech emphasizing all your career highlights makes me fear being stuck in an elevator with you.
Don’t tell my editor at TheWrap, but frankly, I’d rather be forced to take up folk dancing than watch those shows. So like many other cable news viewers, I mostly know Piers Morgan from those preening on-air promos and swaggering publicity interviews you’ve done ahead of your CNN show premiering Jan. 17 in Larry King’s old timeslot.
Believe it or not, I truly want you to succeed. We news junkies are desperate for more than the recycled content, formats, subjects and guests we’re repeatedly handed by the networks. We want hosts offering more than ancient one-note shticks and those who don’t use our valuable time for on-the-job training.
You have a helluva chance.
That being said, you haven’t done much to secure my tune-in. In fact, all your advance PR has only been effective at driving me away. You’ve successfully introduced yourself as the British Foghorn Leghorn.
But unlike most cable news hosts, you’re one of the few who seem to take a big interest in your marketing and have solid experience at it to boot. And it’s clear that you have a big hand, even maybe the lead, in its direction. So in the spirit of Anglo-American goodwill – oh hell, with the hope that I might have a programming option at 9PM – let me offer six things you can do right away to repair our wilting romance:
1. Stop showing that peculiar British desperation to be a hit in the States.
As an unabashed Anglophile, I regularly pour over the British tabloids. And the most curious recurring stories are the U.K. celebrities who make public declarations about their intent to conquer America.
For British artists looking to crack the U.S market, the logical PR approach would be to mount a stealth campaign, build a decent body of work and then go public back home talking up what you achieved. But instead, such plans are routinely announced in advance as a mission, much like conquering Mt. Everest, finding the Holy Grail or beating last year’s Nathan’s Hot Dog-eating winner.
We can smell the desperation and craving, and they aren’t pretty. It puts you in the same wannabe/failure category as Victoria Beckham, Robbie Williams, random minor royals and that inexplicable Jordan creature.
2. Stop playing those quaint publicity games that are the meat and potatoes of the blue-collar British tab battles but are too ham-handed here.
Your out-of-nowhere, apparently one-way feud with Madonna? The calculated series of leaked celebrity turndowns and your insults of critics and competitors? Too ‘90s. Too O’Reilly.
3. Stop copying The Donald’s and Oprah’s flagrant self-love affairs.
I haven’t heard one man gush so effusively about his own appeal since I dated that game show host.
One of the most surreal moments on television right now is your promo with your premiere guest, the queen of self-adoration herself. You recently boasted to media that your allotted 45-minute interview with Winfrey wound up running two hours. So please explain why the only usable soundbite you could find in all that video was where she praised your interviewing skills?
Here’s a reality check. The famously media-avoiding Winfrey has been making gracious appearances everywhere short of “Pit Bulls and Parolees” to bang the drum for her OWN network. And if you’ve spent much time in Hollywood (I know, I know, you’re dying to tell me you have), you know that smart celebrities always find something to compliment about the little guys to curry favor and land a puff piece.
4. In fact, stop producing all those excruciating promos.
I don’t need your promos to tell me you enjoy talking to people; I didn’t think you might prefer chatting with my Audi. And we assume you want to make headlines; otherwise, you’d be working at Aetna. Here’s a trick: Go read your promo copy first just to yourself. Think about how we might interpret it. And then write something else.
5. Stop confusing me.
Viewers are smart. They know that the guest bookings that are promoted offer a publicity road map for understanding a show’s direction. And what you’re telling them with your line-up announcements to date is that you’re chasing, as your producer says, “the middle lane of American pop culture:” you’ve cited mainly TV and film names plus tired Kardashian and Trump appearances.
But you tweet about Clinton (Bill, not George), Tucson and its political fallout. And I did a double take when you tweet-quoted Françoise Sagan, whom most probably assume is that faux French countess on a “Real Housewives” franchise.
To paraphrase one of my favorite philosophers: Are you chicken what I have or is this fish? If you want us to remember you when there’s a breaking news story, you need to tweak your publicity to reflect a broader (and less predictable) guest mix.
6. And finally, stop promising such unrealistic expectations.
You’ve bragged about planning to kick rivals’ butts. The truth is that you have an incredibly steep mountain to climb: deeply-ingrained viewer habits to reverse, the guarantee of competitive stunts from your competitors. Such braggadocio isn’t British, or American, or even Hollywood. It’s a guy thing, much like the need for giant cars. And it makes us women laugh.
Just realize that every columnist who’s been at the receiving end of such boasts has already marked his or her calendar for the next ratings sweeps period to mark your progress in excruciating detail. Knowing CNN’s recent track record and its desperation to see improvement, I would’ve argued for aggressively lowering expectations then having a great story to tell.
But the bottom line remains: I’m rooting for you. And if you make a few modest changes, I might be watching you too.