I don't know that I should be hating on Piers Morgan for taking a soft, jovial approach in his new interview show, Piers Morgan Tonight, because the man is replacing Larry King Live and that's the approach that was enshrined by Mr. King for years and years. He gets the big names, often celebs needing to clear the air on some issue, asks them how they feel, and just sits back and lets them blather for an hour, nudging them occasionally or maybe asking some heartfelt question to make them cry. Real newsmen over the years often derided King's method, but there was a certain skill to it nonetheless, although it deteriorated very obviously as the years went on.
But what’s weird about Piers Morgan Tonight is Piers Morgan. Or rather, his transition from somewhat of a hard newsman bred in the gutter of English tabloid journalism (as cut-throat a professional world that exists) to the kind of guy that leapt to CNN's mind when they sought a replacement for the retiring King. I grew up in England and was a daily reader of The Mirror during his time as editor, and for all its awful tabloid flaws and Morgan's irritating self-aggrandizement (even then, he was ridiculously full of himself), I had a certain level of respect for it. Outside of The Guardian, no paper in England was a tougher advocate against the Iraq war. But that was one of the things that brought about Morgan's downfall as a newsman, when he was fired for a front-page story on soldier abuse of prisoners in Iraq that turned out to be a hoax.
Since then, Morgan has become a professional celeb-interviewer in England with his show Piers Morgan's Life Stories and a Simon Cowell impersonator in America on stuff like America's Got Talent and Celebrity Apprentice. None of which I've ever watched. Maybe that's why it's a little surprising to see him giving such a lame, ass-kissy interview to Oprah Winfrey, where he lobbed softball after softball, praised her to the skies over and over again, and basically let her set the tone of the entire hour. Now, like I said, I shouldn't have expected anything less. "Everything you touch is a hit," he effuses to her, entreating Oprah to touch him and give him luck. She actually corrected him on that, saying she's had failures in her professional career, but Morgan didn't even push that question, even after Oprah gave him the opening. And it's not like that would have been particularly daring to do, but it probably would have set her on a more interesting path than most of the stuff she told him.
Apart from Morgan's "I'm your buddy" style, everything felt so sedate for a couple of reasons, I think. For one, Oprah is a professional interviewer, and at times, it seemed like she was there to give a benediction for the new show, offering some praise for Morgan's empathetic questioning and wishing him the best of luck, etc. For two, the big story about Oprah is that she launched a TV channel. Good for her, but the point of this show has probably not been achieved here. Looking at his first week of guests, I don't know that it will be yet—maybe he'll prod Ricky Gervais into talking about the Golden Globes a bit, but Piers Morgan Tonight exists for the heartfelt apologies, the weepy self-reflection on difficult times and dark days by celebs who just exited rehab or crashed their car or got divorced or whatever. At that point, the questions will be just as soft, but the viewers won't be there for the questions; they'll hardly matter at all.
Morgan's style is definitely chummy and jovial, even when he's asking questions on tough subjects like Oprah's miscarriage when she was 14. Although his public presence seems to involve a lot of hot air and braggadocio (his promotion of the show has included a few twitter wars and a spat with Madonna), little of that was apparent here. Early on, Oprah warned that she wouldn't discuss the rumors about her relationship with best friend Gayle King. "I wasn't even going to mention it!" Morgan protested. Later on, he praised the stunt that sent all of her audience members to Australia on a jumbo jet that glided into the studio, with John Travolta at the helm. "I don't like the word 'stunt,' Piers," Oprah chided. "Of course. What can we call it?" he asked, at least with a hint of sarcasm that time around.
There were a few times he got Oprah to surrender some details, and it was admittedly fascinating to hear her talk about her life as a troubled teenager and her father's dire warnings against her being pregnant out of wedlock, not knowing that she was already pregnant. In the whole hour, that's the only segment that really had me pricking up my ears; it's just a lot less interesting to hear Oprah discuss her method and brand of love or what have you. Her saying that writing checks to the IRS sucked (she wouldn't go further than that) is sort of amusing because it's OPRAH, and she's so RICH, but she quickly checks back into the love-zone by saying, "To whom much is given, much should be given back." Maybe some Fox News pundits will call her a Communist for that one. That'd be a story!
But by the end, Oprah was entirely running the show, with Piers as a giddy participant. She asks him for basically the softest question of all, "Oprah, what do you do best?" Morgan happily asks, and she doesn't even really answer! Previews for future shows seemed to suggest there will be some kind of studio for interviews. Shooting the whole thing in Oprah's place (I assume that was her place?) basically ceded the ground to her right from the start, and Piers never really got a foothold, if he was even looking for one. In the future, I'm sure there will be a need for Piers Morgan Tonight, as ridiculous as that need might be, but there's no need to fill the world with more of these kinds of interviews.