George, Condi and Ricky welcome Piers to prime time

By Ian Burrell
Wednesday 12 January 2011 01:00

The boy can't help himself. As his new bosses at CNN yesterday encouraged America to "Get to Know Piers Morgan," the British presenter was doing his best to confuse his new American audience with abstract outpourings on Twitter about his rival self-publicist "Baron Sugar of Clapton" and the latest performance of the Arsenal reserves.

CNN yesterday announced the stellar line-up of guests booked to appear in the first week of Piers Morgan Tonight, on which the former editor of the Daily Mirror will attempt to fill the void left by the chat-show legend Larry King. After Oprah Winfrey, who will be Morgan's opening guest, he has secured the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the shock jock Howard Stern. Thereafter, Morgan will interview George Clooney and Ricky Gervais.

"Celebrities galore," remarked The New York Times, while the Associated Press said Morgan had "hit the ground running". It was an improvement on the observation by the television critic of The Washington Post that Ms Winfrey, who is promoting her new network, is so craven for publicity that "you have to fend off Oprah with a club".

CNN released a comment from Ms Winfrey saying that her already recorded encounter with Morgan was "one of the toughest interviews I've had in 20 years". Morgan claims that he securedthe interview himself after sweet-talking her closest friend. "I had to seduce Gayle King by email, which I did very successfully," he says.

On the CNN website, viewers were told to "get ready for some fireworks" when Morgan meets Stern. But on the same webpage, Morgan's Twitter stream featured complaints that Harrison Ford had snubbed him, alongside a string of barbs aimed at Lord Sugar, with whom he has been having a playful spat. The network is encouraging Americans to follow Morgan on Twitter, a medium tailor-made for an insomniac motor-mouth.

Being garrulous and thick-skinned can be an asset as a chat show host and, dogged by falling ratings, CNN needs Morgan to succeed. "They sure have been hyping the show – hope they can live up to it," said Edward of Nashville in a comment on the CNN website. "I give him two months and CNN pulls the show," said another poster.

Across the Atlantic, Morgan is known as an entertainment star for his appearances as a judge on NBC's America's Got Talent. Some doubt whether he is capable of going for the throat. "Let's face it – no one with an English accent is dangerous," said a CNN respondent yesterday. But in an apparent attempt to bolster Morgan's heavyweight credentials, the CNN site carries a clip from his ITV interview with Gordon Brown, in which the then Prime Minister was reduced to tears.

CNN has assembled a top production team for Morgan's show, including Jonathan Wald, a former No 2 at CNBC, and Melanie Lefkowitz, former producer for ABC's Good Morning America. The Englishman has also recruited his old friend Conor Hanna, ex-deputy editor of the Daily Mirror.

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