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Morgan Wants to Rule at 9

9/13/2010 4:00 AM Eastern

Piers Morgan expects his upcoming CNN program to be No. 1
in the 9 p.m. time slot.

“I didn’t join the network to come in second or third or fourth,” Morgan said during
a conference call with reporters on Wednesday (Sept. 8). “I want to be first.”

But Morgan’s predecessor, Larry King, has fallen to third in the time slot among cable
news competitors, behind MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and perennial leader
Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel. Year-to-date, Hannity is averaging 2.2 million
viewers followed by Maddow with 931,000 and Larry King Live with 702,000. At times,
King has also fallen below The Joy Behar Show on smaller sister network HLN.

CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein has a lot riding on Morgan as well as his other new
primetime hour, an 8 p.m. topical discussion show co-hosted by conservative columnist
Kathleen Parker and Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York who resigned
in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal. Parker/Spitzer bows Oct. 8.

“We’ve got a lineup of fearless, aggressive journalists who ask tough questions and
hold people accountable,” Klein added. “I think it’s a tough lineup to beat, one that
you can’t find elsewhere in primetime and cable news.”

Morgan’s still untitled program will bow in January. Larry King will host his final
show Dec. 16. Reruns of Larry King Live will fill the 9 p.m. hour until Morgan bows
after the first of the year.

U.S. audiences primarily know Morgan as the acerbic British judge on NBC’s America’s
Got Talent
. And Morgan is banking that his profile on Talent will help propel his
success on CNN. He also hosts an interview show in his native Britain called Piers
Morgan’s Life Stories
. Famously, Morgan made former Prime Minister Gordon Brown
cry during an interview last February. Brown broke down while talking about the
death of his daughter Jennifer and his terror that son Fraser, who has cystic fibrosis,
might not survive to adulthood.

With his CNN program, Morgan will have his hands full. He’ll continue to host Life
Stories
. He’s still negotiating to return to Britain’s Got Talent, the original, U.K. version
of NBC’s America’s Got Talent. And, per his contract with NBC, his duties on Talent
will take precedence over his CNN gig. Talent, which is a summer hit for NBC, is
in production in Los Angeles about five months out of the year. That means that Morgan’s
CNN program will likely be taped during a preponderance of Talent’s production
schedule. Morgan’s CNN show will be based in New York. But it will also shoot
in Los Angeles and London. CNN has yet to settle on a permanent fill-in host for Morgan
when his other duties preclude him from hosting. Also still being discussed is the
format of the show, whether it will be shot in front of a studio audience similar to Life
Stories
and have a regular call-in component similar to Larry King Live.

Morgan said that he will not strive to emulate the opinionated hosts he’ll be competing
against on Fox News and MSNBC. And he declined to disclose where he falls on the
political spectrum. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Why should it matter? I’m much more
concerned with keeping CNN’s mission of being objective and seeking the truth. I have
an opinion. But I’m not going to shove it down people’s throats. There’s enough of that
on other shows,” he said, adding that he finds such an approach “self-indulgent.”


Marisa Guthrie is programming editor at Broadcasting & Cable.