After weeks of promotion and hype, Piers Morgan makes his big splash into CNN’s prime-time line-up Monday night, launching his new talk show with what is known in the trade as a “big get” – the empress of talk herself, Oprah Winfrey.
CNN execs will no doubt have their fingers crossed that the so-called Oprah effect will help turn around the network’s moribund evening ratings, which now trail both the Fox News Channel and MSNBC.
Morgan, 45, a bombastic British tabloid journalist best known to American audiences as a judge on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” takes over the 9 p.m. ET slot occupied by Larry King for nearly a quarter of a century. His program will also air on CNN’s international feeds.
In pre-launch promos and interviews, Morgan has promised a feistier, edgier hour, so King’s old audience might brace for a little jalapeno in its usual dollop of oatmeal. He’s also jettisoning King’s signature practice of doing most of his shows live, in favor of taping and editing interviews for later broadcast.
What’s not changing is the show’s blend of celebrity and pop interviews with political and hard news fare, a mix King pioneered and which Morgan plans to keep. In addition to Oprah, guests during the first week will include Howard Stern and Condoleezza Rice.
That will clearly distinguish “Piers Morgan Tonight” from its cable news competitors, Fox’s “Hannity” and MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” both of which have a heavy political focus. The question, though, is whether Morgan will have any better luck than King in riding that contrast to higher ratings.