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PASADENA – Piers Morgan threw down the gauntlet, challenging his competitors on MSNBC and Fox News to a ratings rat race and promised to bring some much needed buzz to the ratings challenged CNN with his upcoming interview program Piers Morgan Tonight.
“You’ve got to be aggressive and loud,” he told reporters gathered for the semiannual Television Critics Association press tour Thursday.
To that end, Morgan is confident that having Oprah Winfrey as his guest for his debut show Jan. 17 will get his CNN program off on the right foot. The two-hour interview took place this week in Los Angeles and will be edited down for the hour-long program.
But Winfrey hasn’t exactly made herself scarce in the run-up to last weekend’s launch of her cable network OWN. In December, she appeared in a headline-making interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters during which Walters bluntly asked Winfrey if she was a lesbian. And she’s due to appear later today to submit to questions from critics in yet more promotion for OWN.
Citing her status as a multi-billionaire and among the country’s biggest celebrities, Morgan brushed off the notion that Winfrey was an anti-climactic get.
“The idea that you could say that Oprah is not a great get for a first guest on a show like this is ridiculous,” he said.
Morgan, who wooed Winfrey through a six-week email correspondence with Winfrey’s friend Gayle King, promised several revealing tidbits. He would not go into specifics, but he did offer that he asked Winfrey: “How many times have you properly been in love?”
And Piers Morgan Tonight executive producer Jonathan Wald teased that Winfrey had some “fascinating” things to say about her interview with Walters, the grand dame of TV journalism and somewhat of a Winfrey rival at ABC, where both women host periodic celebrity interview specials.
CNN has a lot riding on Morgan’s show, which will face competition in the 9 p.m. time period from perennial cable news leader Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
Responding to a question about the pressure Morgan faces to right CNN’s primetime ship, which is now also occasionally bested by sister network HLN, Morgan said the network remains “one of the most profitable and successful news organizations in the world.”
“They have a short-term problem with ratings in America,” he added. “But you’ve got to keep it in perspective. There’s no doubt that CNN has had their butts kicked by Fox News and MSNBC in primetime. I would like to get to the point … where the butt-kicking is reversed a bit. I am absolutely confident we can.”
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