Polarizing Piers Premieres

Piers Morgan and producer Johnathan Wald

The public persona of Piers Morgan, the Brit who takes over the Larry King slot on CNN tonight, is that of a snide judge on “America’s Got Talent” and an divisive force on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” which he won.

So I asked him in Los Angeles this month how his polarizing ways might affect his audience. Sure 50 percent of the people may have liked him, but the other half may never be persuaded to turn on the show, I said.

“I would say it’s more 70/30 against me, probably,” Morgan says. “And I love being polarizing. I think it’s more fun. I couldn’t bear — when you talk about a pressure and burden on your shoulders. The idea of being some saintly figure in modern television must be unbearable. Imagine the pressure of that. And I think television should be provocative and opinionated. And if you are going to do that, you’re going to be polarizing. But I like being polarizing.”
How will that affect his getting guests, though?

“Well, I think guests are going to have a choice between having a safe, easy five-minute ride to plug their movie, which is in the end is rather boring and unmemorable, or they’re going to have a choice of coming on for an hour and jousting with this rather annoying Brit.

“And if they succeed, they’ll be the toast of America. That’s got to be a good sales pitch, doesn’t it?”

On the Monday premiere, Oprah Winfrey, was undercut as a very special first guest by the fact she has been doing so many interviews to promote her new cable network. But they had a pleasant enough banter. Morgan proved himself a cheery interviewer, able to let her go on at length without interruption. What was surprising was his frequent outbursts in guffaws, acting so pleased at answers he came off as opposite of the tough interviewer.

Winfrey toyed with him, though, wise to his moves in questioning, but also perplexed at why he dwelled so much on Steadman.

Visually, it was the opposite of Larry King, with the interview shot in a random hotel suite instead of a desk and a studio, which will apparently materialize for the first time Tuesday when another former king of all media, Howard Stern, stops by for a chat.

I appreciated the fact that the ticker took the night off and the shots were largely uncluttered with the usual info overload.

But Morgan thought very highly of how he did with Winfrey.

“We were supposed to have 45
minutes, and it ended up maybe two hours, and it was absolutely hysterical,” he said of the taped interview. “But it had moments of great gravity, of emotion, of pathos, but other times, it was very entertaining, very amusing. And I think we will absolutely personify the kind of show that I like do. And I defy any of you to watch this show when it airs on the
17th of January and not enjoy it. You may not admit it in public because, you know, it’s slightly degrading to do that. I’ve been a TV critic. But I think it is.

“I know these promos are endlessly irritating. Even I am bored by them. But there’s only so many times that you can promise an interview is going to be great. Eventually, you have to deliver. But I think it’s a great interview, and I think it will absolutely incapsulate what I am trying to do. I want to do interviews that, you guys who have to sit here all day listening to boring people spouting a lot of clap, trap. I hope you watch these interviews and feel exhilarated and excited.”

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