I’m just going to state this up front, because this is a very controversial stance to make in a Brit-American forum such as this – I love Piers Morgan’s TV work. I already made this clear in the past. I’ve seen every episode of his Life Stories show on ITV, and I was thrilled from the moment his name came up in the Larry King replacement list. So all the haters can just go ahead and hate. This is not the review for you.
That said, on a professional level I can pick apart news shows like the best, and having had prior experience to a Piers Morgan program that I liked a lot gives me extra material to compare his first CNN interview with Oprah Winfrey to. The first thing I would say is that I really miss the little biographical segments that Morgan voices that are sprinkled into his Life Stories interviews on ITV. That may not be possible with five shows a week vs. one on ITV and most of us already know enough of Oprah’s life story as it is, but they added a lot to the body of the show. I hope they end up in future shows.
I also hate staged sets like Oprah’s perfectly-styled living room (or if that’s her real living room I would have to stay in another room because it would give me a migraine.) I’m looking forward to seeing the debut of Morgan’s studio set on Tuesday with Howard Stern, because the pictures look like watercolors and I’m interested in how that will translate on tape. I loved the starkness of the black-and-white, two-chairs Life Stories set. But it definitely gave an Oprah vibe and that was probably part of the deal for the “big get” of the interview.
As far as the interview, it was classic Piers Morgan. The best comparison to one of the ITV shows was his interview with Barbara Windsor, who is probably beloved in the UK on a comparable level to Oprah-mania. A lot of the show was unabashed sucking up to Oprah. Possibly too much. However, it only occasionally felt downright gratuitous and usually led to her opening up more about her “life lessons.” Which is where Morgan’s ability to make people talk and emote kicked in.
Oprah really did open up in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen her do with anyone else, except for possibly Barbara Walters on one of her “Most Interesting People” segments years ago. She admitted that it took many years for her to fall in love with her companion Stedman Graham. And she talked more at length and honestly about the death of her baby at the age of 14 – and how she kept it a secret even from family for years – than she ever has. She talked about it in a way that will resonate for many women and didn’t sound like something she’d held back to trot out gratuitously. It was heartfelt and open.
What was also notable was the lack of pressing on other subjects that some will call soft-pedaling, but I disagree. I suspect that if Morgan hadn’t taken Oprah’s declaration that she wasn’t going to talk about the sexuality rumors that have surrounded her and her best friend Gayle King to heart, she wouldn’t have opened up nearly as much about both Gayle (who apparently had gotten close to Piers in the weeks before the interview took place) and Graham. She said, rightly, that she had already addressed the subject of the rumors for the last time some weeks ago, and Morgan left it and instead delved into how many times she said she’s had her heart broken (twice) and why she’s never married (“Throw yourself a party and get yourself a really nice gown.”) So her relationships felt more fleshed out than just batting around rumors for 15 minutes or so.
It’s not fair to judge a show wholly on first impressions, but I do think this was a very strong first outing for Morgan’s first CNN show. It could’ve felt like an hour of nothing new, but there were enough new pieces to feel like interaction instead of merely another promotional piece. The real test will be in upcoming shows where Morgan is no longer interviewing the king or queen of any medium (will have to get past tomorrow night with Stern to get there) and he is not quite so effusive in praise.
Will he ask the tough questions when the time comes? Will he get emotion when the subject doesn’t have such a public heart on their sleeve? That’s yet to be seen. So check back in a couple weeks and we’ll have a better answer. But for now, I don’t think Morgan will be moving back to London full-time anytime soon.
Oh, one more note – if CNN can’t manage to replace Larry King with the kind of on-air promotion and online blitz that Morgan’s team has done in the past few weeks, it won’t be done. Many hats off should be given for their Twitter blitz alone. Both online and in simple footwork with other media outlets, Morgan has been inescapable for awhile now. Which is probably bad for the haters, but has been pretty entertaining on Twitter.