Everyone knew his daily chat show on the US television network CNN wasn’t working. You would be hard pressed even to argue that he has had a good run.
Tellingly, Piers Morgan, 48, who replaced the iconic Larry King just over three years ago in the same slot, isn’t pretending otherwise. Revealing late on Sunday to The New York Times media writer David Carr that his programme, Piers Morgan Live, would shut down shortly, probably sometime in March, he commented candidly: “It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings.”
The question is why. It was counter-intuitive for CNN to hire a Brit to plumb whatever is moving America on any particular night. Yet in him they had found a rare thing of a news man – he edited The Mirror for nine years – who after hosting various talent shows also entirely got the more tabloid side of broadcasting.
Arguably, Morgan did himself in over a year ago using his show relentlessly to hammer the supporters of gun rights in America, particularly the National Rifle Association (NRA), in the wake of the Newtown school massacre in Connecticut that killed 27 people, including 20 small children. On one occasion he called the head of Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt, “dangerous”, “stupid” and an “idiot”.
His brashness on the topic provoked sufficient anger that a petition was sent to the White House, signed by 109,000 people, demanding that he be shipped back to London as punishment for attacking the Second Amendment to the Constitution. It was sufficient to prompt a reply from spokesman Jay Carney, who suggested that the plaintiffs also pay attention to the First Amendment protecting free speech.
Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
1/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“I want to interview the most important people in the world and have everyone in America the next day going, 'Did you see that?'” On Piers Morgan Live, which just got axed.
2/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“Most of the men that sue in Hollywood are all about 5' 2“. They wake up every day, know they're tiny and feel very angry about it, so they go out and sue people.”
3/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“It was pretty compelling to watch, pretty weird, and it made me gag a few times.” – in his role as Britain’s Got Talent judge
4/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“I'm guilt-ridden about introducing her to Paul McCartney. It was a moment of Cupid madness which cost Sir Paul $50 million, so the least I can do is ban her from the show.” - On banning Heather Mills from Piers Morgan Tonight
5/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“Bill O'Reilly is like a comfortable pair of shimmeringly angry slippers, but you know every night what you're going to get.” – On Bill O’Reilly
6/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“Why do we want someone like Ruth Kelly controlling our children? She's the scariest woman I've ever seen in politics.” - On the British Education Secretary in 2005
7/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“You're an unbeleivably stupid man, aren't you?” Interviewing gun-rights activist Larry Pratt
8/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“There is a type of snobbish, pompous journalist who thinks that the only news that has any validity is war, famine, pestilence or politics. I don't come from that school.”
9/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“To all the ignorant, bigoted transgender community members continuing to abuse me re @janetmock - I'm bored of you now, go away. Thanks.” - On interviewing transgender activist Janet Mock
10/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“I have kind of an edge in me, which will be a little bit different for that time slot but probably necessary to combat the O'Reillys and so on who are making all the noise.”
11/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"Everyone's worst ever Christmas sweater > Team USA uniforms. #RalphLauren #Sochi #OpeningCeremony" - Tweeting ahead of Sochi Olympics... And wondering why he's not that popular in the US.
12/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"To reiterate, I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story obtained from the hacking of a phone." - Defending himself against fresh phone-hacking allegations.
13/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"Anything to do with my kids really is the only thing that gets to me. It's the most difficult thing about the job, unquestionably. It's been the most difficult thing to sacrifice." - On not realising he was the editor of The Mirror once and how hypocritical this therefore sounds.
14/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"I wonder if poor old Jeremy Clarkson's little hissy fit today is connected to Top Gear's disintegrating ratings & rumours it may be axed?" - Embarrassing in hindsight, during a Twitter spat with Jeremy Clarkson.
15/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"I never realised how endlessly entertaining Twitter would turn out to be. Oh, the joy when I realised you could tweet Manchester United stars personally, ridiculing them for everything from their dodgy haircuts to offensive swimwear. And even more delicious when they began firing back like enraged Rambos on acid." - On his social media addiction.
16/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"I do blame people. Where were all the people making money out of her when it mattered? Really, where were they? You know, it's just not good enough and they're all going to make millions out of it now she's dead. You know, the album Back to Black is number one… but people let her down." - On passing the blame on from the pressures of the tabloid press for Amy Winehouse's death.
17/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
“Absolutely nobody in the entire United States of America has even a modicum of interest in who I am, but I’m determined to change that." - On what he tried - and failed - to do in the US.
18/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"I fear I am now a victim of 'cisphobia'." - Piers Morgan combats being called 'transphobic' after sensationalised Janet Mock interview... By being massively transphobic.
19/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"@GaryLinekar_ Did you ever actually tackle anyone?" - To which Linekar replied, "Nope never hacked anyone".
20/20 Piers Morgan's Most Pretentious Phrases
"If I wanted a lesson on physical appearance I'd go to @evalongoria not Shrek's ugly brother" - Arguing with Rio Ferdinand on Twitter. Again.
The gun controversy encapsulated a problem that was there from the outset. Even if his own ratings had trailed off badly at the end, over a reign of 25 years King had commanded an audience that spanned all of America. Morgan seemed caught between different constituencies – the generally conservative Middle America and the more liberal independent republics of New York City and Los Angeles.
It turned out to be a balancing act for him and he got it wrong. CNN built fancy studios for Morgan in New York and Los Angeles. Everything in between are called the “flyover states” for a reason and perhaps Morgan should have thought to stop by them from time to time and not just for presidential debates. He might have learnt something about the whole America to which he was meant to be broadcasting. He surely knows this now. “Look, I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarising, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” he admitted to Mr Carr. By last week, his show was being watched by just 270,000 viewers and only 50,000 in the age group advertisers care about, from 25 to 54-years old.
This was hardly sustainable for CNN and its president Jeffrey Zucker. The competing programmes on Fox News and MSNBC took in two million and 900,000 respectively over the same period. Morgan has been sinking all of CNN’s ships during primetime and he clearly had to go. That said, Morgan said he is discussing other duties for CNN, like important interviews and breaking-news coverage.
“Jeff and I have been talking for some time about different ways of using me,” he said.
There was also something else – the phone-hacking cloud that had attached itself to Morgan dating back to his command of The Mirror. He has denied all knowledge of the practice but this month revealed he had (willingly) submitted to questioning by police in London last December. CNN has said the shuttering of his gig has nothing to do with the investigation.
If there is bitterness, it isn’t showing. His contract with the network runs until September, after all. But if Morgan ever writes a sequel to his already published memoir, he might muse on why CNN failed him too. Here is a network that is bland compared with the opinionated ravings that are encouraged at MSNBC and Fox. Ravings get ratings and Morgan attempted a bit of it himself and got run over. One day he will reveal whether his producers in fact encouraged him to jump off the deep end on guns.
Ultimately, Morgan may have misfired because of that tricky matter of tone. Any expat Brit in America, let alone a chat show host, knows the narrowness of the territory that separates caustic British wit from tiresome British obnoxiousness.