CNN’s Got Talent?

An surprise choice for Larry King's chair may have unsurprising results

Our first reaction to news that America’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan will probably take Larry King’s chair at CNN?


Our second reaction, once we’d figured out who Morgan was (nasty Simon Cowell-like Talent judge, former editor of British tabloid The Daily Mirror, and winner of the first series of The Celebrity Apprentice)?


CNN’s talent balance sheet this year reads thusly.

Losses: Christiane Amanpour, Larry King, and Campbell Brown. You can add Lou Dobbs from late last year to that list, and maybe even another big network name—the New York Post reported yesterday that John King, the network’s famous election night cartographer and host of John King, USA, is about to pack up his map.

Gains: Piers Morgan, Eliot Spitzer, and columnist Kathleen Parker.

And, of course, they still have Blitzer (incidentally the subject of a brilliant recent Onion video, “Girl Raised From Birth By Wolf Blitzer Taken Into Protective Custody”).

It looks like someone may have sold their cow for beans. Spitzer and Parker aside, can the self-proclaimed “most trusted name in news” hold that claim with Cowell-lite at the helm of one of its flagship programs. And a Brit at that? Cue once more the “Whither CNN” headlines.

But, the surprising choice of Morgan for the 9 p.m. slot might not be such a dumb move. Talent dominates the summer ratings, in no small part thanks to Morgan’s wit and charm, and as the Times’s Brian Stelter points out, Morgan is not new to the King-style format.

…what many people in the United States might not know is that Mr. Morgan, 45, is an A-list interviewer, and he has essentially been rehearsing for CNN for the past year by hosting “Piers Morgan Life Stories,” a series of well-received and high-rated interviews with figures like Gordon Brown and Simon Cowell, on the British network ITV.

We took a look at some of Morgan’s interviews. He’s a deft, probing questioner, but Gordon Brown is hardly typical of his foils. In fact, he’s more at home with the kind of folks Larry had come to embrace in his last years on CNN; Morgan’s life stories come mostly from celebrities including Joan Collins, Sharon Osbourne, former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, and Cowell himself. And isn’t that just what CNN needs to be doing right now, staying the course?

For a taste of what the dwindling CNN audience can look forward to, here is an excerpt from Morgan’s interview with Gordon Brown. The former prime minister discusses the death of his infant daughter at the three-minute mark in what has become a famous TV moment for the next Larry King.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.