Tuesday, January 18, 2011

CNN's Cry For Help

Larry King, even at his best, would never have been able to do what Piers Morgan did Monday night, according to John Timpane at philly.com.

Morgan is CNN's replacement in King's longtime, prime-time slot at 9 p.m. weeknights, with the show entitled "Piers Morgan Tonight." The very venerable King has retired after 24 1/2 years. Thanks in part to the tired King franchise, CNN, this country's first 24/7 news cabler, is losing badly in prime time, getting trounced by righty Fox and lefty MSNBC.

Morgan, an English tabloid journalist, game-show judge, and TV host, is in many ways a cry for help. CNN is clearly hoping Morgan, famed for being edgy, gossipy, and rule-busting, will attract eyeballs. The question is whether the down-the-middle channel can hang on for the ride.

The first-ever guest on Morgan's show Monday night was Oprah Winfrey. It's called swinging for the fences.

In the prerecorded (and clearly edited) interview we saw two famed interviewers go at it, both with a smile.

Winfrey, crazily over-made-up, tried at every turn to assert control and furnish O boilerplate where Morgan wanted revelation and dish. (Her answer to his first question, for example, made sure to plug her just-fledged cable channel, OWN.) And many of her answers were of the "I am very clear that my life, my purpose, is bigger than myself" variety. Pablum. Drone. Bilge.

King probably would have let it stand. Hardly famed for his incisive follow-up questions, he was the Old Reliable Softballer for the entertainment industry, the go-to guy for anyone with a new book, CD, show, or movie.

Morgan won't be like that. He is high-energy, enthusiastic, effusive, playful, fascinated. During answers, he purses his small mouth, listening. He has a mischievous I-know-you-won't-like-this smile when he probes.

Even his edgiest queries come in a manner that blunts any impression of meanness or nastiness. He uses his explosive laugh to excellent advantage; somehow it never sounds forced, even though he tends to laugh loudest when his guest resists the most.

And he did ask follow-ups, always with good cheer. But all of them - and here is where Winfrey could not have hoped to escape - were designed to play up what she was refusing to answer. All in good fun, of course.

While you can't say Morgan pried any big revelations out of Oprah, you can definitely say he "won" the encounter (if it were even a contest in the first place). That's because, after a first segment that was clearly a draw, he got Oprah to banter and to leave, for brief moments, her perpetual scriptedness.

Read more here.

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