Piers pressure: can he be the new king of chat?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It's crunch-time for the former editor's bid to conquer the US

New York

It was a strange sight, the belligerent former editor of a British tabloid being hugged enthusiastically to the bosom of the New York media elite.

But there he was, Piers Morgan, in the exquisite surroundings of Manhattan's Upper East Side, feted as the next big thing in American television journalism.

With just days to go to the launch of his nightly interview show on CNN, on which the financial fortunes of the news channel are precariously hung, Morgan was toasted at a ritzy party hosted by Tina Brown, the British-born editor of Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast website, and her husband, Sir Harold Evans, the former editor of The Sunday Times ("of London", as it is called here). Morgan positively beamed. Brown and Evans were proof, he said, "that New York can be taken over by the Brits".

That's certainly the plan, the aim of all the hoopla, as Piers Morgan Tonight goes to air on Monday.

"Ready... Steady... Piers" it says on the massive billboard in Times Square, from which Morgan stares down like Gulliver in Lilliput. CNN is sparing no expense advertising the show, and it can't wait for its new star to sprint out of the blocks. He will be helped by the fanfare over Larry King's retirement – 2.2 million people tuned in for his last show, after 25 years in the slot – and more than a little curiosity.

Reality TV has been good to Morgan in the US. As judge on America's Got Talent since 2006, he has adopted the cruel-but-honest-Brit role made famous this side of the Atlantic by his friend Simon Cowell.

More recently, he scored a blow-out victory on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, phoning up his showbiz pals and getting them to pay exorbitant prices for cupcakes or Broadway tickets, all in the name of "charidee". In short, he is already on the map here, even if the journalistic credentials that make him an ideal fit for the Larry King slot are less well known than to the folks back home.

The Tina Brown event, like Morgan's other appearances on the party circuit since his arrival in the US, was a getting-to-know-who's-who introduction to the industry's grandees.

The media executive Barry Diller and his wife, the designer Diane von Furstenberg, were in attendance; Arianna Huffington flitted about. Many of the US's most prominent interviewers were also there, from Charlie Rose to Diane Sawyer to Christiane Amanpour. The legendary Barbara Walters gave her seal of approval, predicting huge success.

As if to underscore his arrival among talk show royalty, Morgan turns, for the first installment of his programme, to the Queen of Talk Shows, Oprah Winfrey, from whom he has extracted the confession that she once wolfed down 30 pounds of macaroni and cheese when she was depressed.

The "shock jock" DJ Howard Stern, the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the actor George Clooney are also in the bag for the first week's line-up.

Morgan has been able to dribble out vignettes from the interviews on a promotional blog, one advantage of his decision to pre-record the encounters – in a break from the Larry King era. It is also perhaps a hint of nerves, as well as a sign of his determination not to stumble. "Doing it live," he told The Independent. "The only thing it means is that it can go wrong."

CNN desperately needs Piers Morgan Tonight to be a hit. Its prime time ratings have collapsed over the past year, as King staggered towards retirement, MSNBC peeled away left-leaning viewers and Rupert Murdoch's Fox News continued to dominate the landscape with the populist punditry of Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck et al. The five most-watched prime time shows are all on Fox; CNN lost 34 per cent of its viewers in 2010.

Morgan is clearly relishing the chance to resume his good-natured feud with Murdoch, his erstwhile boss at the News of the World, who he regularly tweaked during his Mirror days while doing battle against The Sun. "This billboard appears to have gone up directly opposite Rupert Murdoch's NYC office," he wrote on Twitter. "Morning ex boss..."

Murdoch had told him the chances of his appearing on the show were less than zero, Morgan told his launch party this week. In a thick Australian accent, he recounted the mogul's email welcoming him to New York: "I wish you good luck," Murdoch apparently wrote, "but I do not wish you success."

At 45, at a milestone in his extraordinary career and stepping into the shoes of one of the legends of US broadcasting, Morgan's character is recognisably one of the British tabloid. His is an ambivalent belligerence, comedy dressed up as vitriol and vice versa. Then there is the thirst for the juiciest secrets, and the hunger to win. The question is, will all this boisterousness work in America, where the stars are just a little more precious?

In person, Morgan can turn on the charm in a way that might not be obvious from his writing or his performances on America's Got Talent. This was the side that he displayed to the assembled powerbrokers this week, the side that will win him interviews.

There were kind words, back-slapping, mutual book-plugging. And there was self-deprecation, even humility, as he moved among the guests. "I still can't quite believe it is happening," he said.

Larry King was derided as an easy interviewer, a pitcher of the soft ball, but it kept him in big-name interviewees for 25 years.

Morgan's reputation, as Tina Brown pointed out, is as someone who charms his subjects into a confession they may just wish they hadn't made. That will certainly make him a rarity on US television. Will it make him a liability?

"I'm going to be here a long time," he predicted as he sang New York's praises and wrapped up his speech. Maybe it was the warmth and the wine, but at that moment at least, the city's media elite appeared inclined to agree.

America's weakness for the men Britain loves to hate

When it comes to pricking the bubble of sunny optimism that surrounds Hollywood's celebrity class, there are few better tools that a Home Counties accent and a healthy dose of British cynicism.

Just 24 hours before CNN unveils its new star interviewer, another UK export, Ricky Gervais, will attempt to illustrate this fact when he swaggers up to the microphone at the Golden Globes.

Gervais, hosting Sunday's event for the second time, takes a more subversive approach than his saccharine American counterparts. In a recent interview, he promised to use the bully pulpit to poke fun at "weak and feeble" figures from his star-studded audience.

This follows in a great British tradition. Simon Cowell's sneering put-downs turned American Idol into the biggest hit on US television; Russell Brand's hosting gigs at the MTV awards have recently become required viewing.

Morgan will have to tread a fine line, though. Brand sparked a national outcry when he used MTV to call George W Bush a "retarded cowboy". Americans may be fascinated by British cynicism, but that doesn't mean they always like it.

Guy Adams

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor