Piers Morgan: I won't be CNN's Glenn Beck

Doesn't want to 'force my opinions down the viewers' throats'

Piers Morgan, finally confirmed Wednesday as veteran talk show host Larry King's replacement, spoke to THR after last month's Emmys and again Wednesday morning, along with CNN president Jonathan Klein. What should viewers expect from the new primetime show, to kick off this January? Morgan wants to get CNN back to No. 1 in the ratings without being an opinionated pundit like Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly. He also has a few ideas for his first guests. Read more on Hibberd's Live Feed blog.

THR: You have a tougher interviewing reputation than Larry King. Do you plan to bring that to CNN?

Morgan: I've always disputed that Larry is in any way a softball interviewer. In his very stylish crafty way, he's always been brilliant at getting stuff out of people, so I've always admired him hugely. Although I'm a different kind of interviewer, we share the same thing -- a fascination about people, and that's what I want to replicate, a love of the guests and enthusiasm for what they do. Unlike Larry, who comes from a radio background, I come from a newspaper background. So I bring a journalistic rigor to the way I do things that will be a little bit different and hopefully quite surprising and exciting for an American audience.

THR: "Larry King Live" is also known as a friendly forum for people to tell their stories.

Morgan: I still would like to do that. I’d like to be myself. To me, Larry King is irreplaceable, he really is. He's a one in a million that has interviewed every president, every leader. The guy’s a legend. I'm not going to try and replace Larry King. I’m about trying to just do my thing, and I think that’s the reason I got the job, at least in my view.

THR: Who would you like to be your first guest?

Morgan: Well, I would like to interview the president. I think Obama is someone who is going through a pretty tough time. Outside of America, people love him … I think he's an amazing charismatic figure who's going through a tough time at the moment, and the midterm elections are coming. It’s going to be a tough period for him and I'd love to sit down with him an have a frank interview. Having said that, there's all sorts of people in the world of entertainment. I'd love to be the first to interview Mel Gibson or Lindsay Lohan or whoever is in the news who is relevant and current. Today CNN had the first interview with [Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero], I would love to do that interview. I have no problem doing him one day, and Mel Gibson the next.

THR: What about Simon Cowell?

Morgan: I did Simon in Britain for "Life Stories" and he said it was the best interview he's ever given. I've already reached out to him for the CNN show and I'm getting pretty positive feedback. I think Simon sees it as like the old feudal days, when you'd have two guys on horseback jousting.

THR: CNN has ratings challenges, what do you think of top-rated Fox News and their hosts, like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly?

Morgan: I've watched them, they're incredibly watchable, that's why they're proving to be popular. They're obviously very right wing, much more than I am. They're very messianic in the way they go about what they do. What I find really amusing about all those cable hosts in the 8-9 p.m. hours is the level of self indulgence, the way they talk about themselves and their rivals hosts ad nauseam. I'm not entirely sure that serves the viewer very well. Nor am I convinced that it's right for CNN to go down that path. If I sat with you for a drink I'd have lots of opinions about lots of things. But when it comes to my TV interviews, I don't like to be part of them. I like to be journalistically rigorous and get the truth out of them, not force my opinions down the viewers' throat. I want them to be electrified by the combat between me and the guest.

THR: So if CNN shouldn't have more pointed opinions like CNN and MSNBC, what should it do to be more competitive?

Morgan: You're never going to be more left wing than Rachel Maddow; you're never going to be more right wing than Glenn Beck -- I don't think there's ever been anyone in history more right wing than him. You need to be aware when you join a network like CNN they may have a short-term ratings concern, but look at the brand, look at the reputation. "Larry King Live" aired in 212 countries, it's not just about America for me. I want this to be the most credible and popular interview program in the world. I want to create headlines and get ratings up -- particularly in America. I'd like to get CNN back to No. 1. Everything else I've done on television has been No. 1.

THR: There's a quote of you saying it’s irritating when celebrities are doing interviews just to plug products, but that's a big part of landing names in the U.S.

Morgan: You're going to get people who are on the circuit. What I find irritating is the programs themselves that pander to just being a plug-a-thon. It doesn't matter if they're promoting a book as long as the interview itself is really good. What I don't like is watching boring pat interviews with people who've done 30 interviews that week and they're just going through the motions.

THR: John, what's the theme that we should be taking from all the recent primetime lineup changes on CNN?

Jonathan Klein: Fearlessness. It's about primetime anchors, weighing right in there with tough questions for public figures. That's true of Eliot Spitzer, Kathleen Parker, Anderson Cooper and now Piers Morgan. Viewers deserve that, they want answers to the questions. They want an equal opportunity offender, if you will, holding everybody's feet to the fire, and viewers sense they get a stacked deck at the other networks.

THR: You say "this is what viewers want," but what are you basing that on? When you look at the numbers, [opinionated pundits] is what it seems that people want.

Klein : That's what a couple million people want, but this is a nation of 300 million. Why aren't they watching? We want to get them.

THR: Was there any concern that most Americans associate Morgan with reality TV?

Klein: Never had a doubt from the moment we met Piers that he was a perfect fit for CNN. He's one of us. He's a journalist through and through. He's got an appetite for life and for what's going on in the world and he loves nothing better than to talk to people and surprise us with the revelations that he can unearth.

Morgan: By the way, being responsible for finding great undiscovered American talent [on NBC's "America's Got Talent"] or winning a business competition run by Donald Trump [on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice"] are hardly badges of dishonor, are they? Both shows I took part in have great qualities. The qualities I bring as a judge for that -- wanting to get the best out of people, to find the best -- well those are exactly the sort of things I'll bring to my TV show.

Klein: Brutal honesty makes for a great TV show.

THR: Speaking of reality, as the judge of the summer's top-rated reality show, what do you think of Fox apparently picking Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez as new "Idol" judges?

Morgan: Well, I guess they couldn't afford me.

THR: Is that a joke or did Fox really go after you?

Morgan: Obviously, if you're losing the snarky Brit it's no great secret there's another one on "America's Got Talent," the No. 1-rated show in the summer. If I was "Idol" I'd certainly put a few calls in, but I think they realized CNN beat them to it.
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