As awkward encounters go, it was like sitting next to your ex's younger, and insufferably smug, new partner. After Larry king dismissed Piers Morgan as over-hyped in a radio interview last week, the elder statesman of US broadcasting submitted himself to a grilling by his upstart successor.
King, 77, who was deposed in January after 25 years steering CNN's flagship show, told Radio 4 Morgan had failed to live up to his "dangerous" billing. "I think [CNN] might have been better off starting quiet," he added.
Morgan, whose guests so far have included Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice, has been smarting ever since. Summoned to play second fiddle on Piers Morgan Tonight, King was asked to justify his criticism.
"I've spent the last few months saying following you is like following Frank Sinatra," Morgan told King. "I couldn't have paid you higher praise. Then you go in my back-yard and say I'm oversold, undangerous."
"I did not," King replied. "Listen, if you read the full quote, I said, 'He's fine.'... I haven't seen you dangerous yet. I said you're capable."
Damned with faint praise, Morgan continued: "I'm following a legend. You can't follow Sinatra in Vegas and say, 'By the way, I'm not very good and this is gonna be useless.'
King asked: "Why can't you just say: 'Piers Morgan. I'm coming. Watch me.' What's wrong with that?"
Like a fallen dictator placed on a show-trial, King's own CNN record was denounced. Why did he think ratings for Larry King Live had fallen so much in the past few years? King said that a new breed of opinionated hosts had taken over for whom "the guest is a prop". Not Piers, surely?
King said he'd head that Morgan was considering "punching" him, to up the "danger" quotient on the new show. Morgan aimed a pretend punch but said: "We decided that punching you would not be a great move."
"Were you being facetious when you said you were dangerous?" King asked. "Was that an attempt at British humour?" "I was only kidding," Morgan admitted.
"Aha, British humour," King replied. "I didn't get it. I'm from Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, if you say you're dangerous, you better be dangerous."
The British host is claiming victory in the ratings battle. Piers Morgan Tonight averaged 826,000 viewers during the past fortnight, compared with King's 732,000 viewers during the same two-week period last year.
Morgan has been unable to retain the 2.1 million who watched his opening chat with Winfrey and audiences have dipped below 500,000. But CNN claims he is consistently attracting a higher percentage of younger viewers.
King, sent on his way with a pair of Union Jack patterned braces by his tormentor, admitted he had missed not covering the Middle East uprisings. But he is about to debut a touring, one-man comedy show.
Morgan had the last laugh when he said his predecessor had been married eight times to seven women, he said. A miscount, claimed King: Morgan had assigned him an extra wife. However, Piers was right first time. "I forget," King said. "The only one that counts is the current one."
Afterwards, the two congratulated each other on Twitter. King said he "had a great time talking with Piers Morgan". Morgan wrote: "My thanks to @kingsthings (Larry King) for a thoroughly 'dangerous' interview!"
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