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UPDATED: CNN made it official: Reality TV personality Piers Morgan will replace Larry King.
The network will launch a primetime interview program in January hosted by the “America’s Got Talent” judge.
The British-born Morgan has long had a journalism career in the UK as a newspaper editor at the Daily Mirror and host of the program “Piers Morgan’s Life Stories.” CNN struck a deal with NBC that will allow Morgan to continue his work on “Got Talent.” He’s also expected to continue hosting “Life Stories.”
Sources says Morgan’s shift in the U.S. from reality talent to replacing the veteran interviewer started more than a year ago, with Morgan meeting with former NBC co-chair Ben Silverman about the possibility of doing primetime interview shows.
In January, Morgan’s agent John Ferriter at Octagon Entertainment approached CNN about the idea of Morgan doing an interview show on the network.
After a meeting in April with CNN president Jonathan Klein and other top executives at the cable news network, both walked away impressed — the news network that Morgan had the correct journalistic focus, and Morgan that CNN had leadership he felt comfortable with.
The initial plan wasn’t, sources claim, to replace King. The 9 p.m. slot wasn’t even initally on table due to Morgan’s contractual obligations with NBC. Once King announced his retirement, the conversation immediately changed.
“There were no serious conversations about 9 p.m. slot until after Larry made announcement,” Ferriter said.
Talks then shifted to NBC to free up Morgan to do the show, and went smoother than one might expect, with NBC basically saying, “You figure out a way to make this work and we won’t block it.” Sources say Morgan’s work visa, which was reportedly a hold up, wasn’t actually an issue — he hadn’t applied for one yet. After Morgan applied, he was quickly approved.
CNN and Morgan then struck a multi-year deal in about two weeks, financial terms were not disclosed.
Morgan said he would like his first guest to be president Barack Obama.
“I would like to interview the president,” Morgan told Hollywood Reporter. “I think Obama is someone who is going through a pretty tough time. Outside of America, people love him.”
Sensitive to the perception that Morgan is mainly known for his reality TV efforts in the States, CNN is emphasizing Morgan’s journalism experience.
“Piers has made his name posing tough questions to public figures, holding them accountable for their words and deeds,” Klein said. “He is able to look at all aspects of the news with style and humor with an occasional good laugh in the process.”
King’s last day will be Dec. 16. The host announced in June he would step down from hosting “Larry King Live,” which has seen ratings declines in recent years.
Morgan said his style will be different from King.
“The guy’s a legend,” Morgan said. “I’m not going to try and replace Larry King. I’m about trying to just do my thing … I’m not afraid of breaking news … I can go from light to shocking.”
The move is one in a series of talent shakeups on the news network, which has struggled against top-rated Fox News and MSNBC. CNN replaced “Lou Dobbs Tonight” with “John King USA” and this fall is debuting “Parker Spitzer” — hosted by columnist Kathleen Parker and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer — replacing “Campbell Brown.”
Morgan will be based in New York, CNN said, and will also work in Los Angeles and London.
“I am thrilled to be joining CNN, and very much looking forward to bringing my own style of interviewing to the world’s biggest, and best, TV news organization,” Morgan said in a statement. “As a young journalist in Britain, I watched CNN’s astonishing live coverage of the 1991 Gulf War, and felt enthralled by the courage and brilliance of the journalists involved in that coverage. Years later, I watched Anderson Cooper’s visceral reports from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and felt equally enthralled by his passionate and relentless search for the truth. Perhaps most pertinently, I have watched Larry King Live for much of the last 25 years, and dreamed of one day filling the legendary suspenders of the man I consider to be the greatest TV interviewer of them all.”
— Matthew Belloni contributed to this report
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