In September of 2010, CNN announced that British television personality, Piers Morgan would be taking over the retiring Larry King’s television spot. King was winding down his long and prestigious broadcast career on a bit of a low note at CNN. His ratings had declined significantly in a time-slot that pitted him up against fiery, ideologically-driven programs on the other cable news networks. The evolution of the genre had left King behind. His mundane and incurious interview style still attracted A-list guests but it no longer attracted viewership.
The decision to bring Piers Morgan aboard demonstrated a conscious effort by CNN to try and catch the wave of fast-paced, often combative programming that the competition was enjoying success with. American audiences had become familiar with the crass Brit from his role as a judge on the reality television series, America’s Got Talent. The show let him promote a blunt-speaking, pretentious persona that mirrored that of American Idol’s Simon Cowell. The clear hope was that Morgan would bring with him a cross-over audience.
Piers Morgan Tonight kept the same interview format that King had used but the CNN marketing department was quick to point out how Morgan’s blazing personality and verbal brazenness would essentially cast him as the anti-King. Words like “unpredictable”, “lively”, and “challenging” were used in advertisements for the show with an animation of a smug Morgan crossing his arms and exuding confidence from every pore.
Things didn’t go exactly as CNN had hoped they would.
Less than a year and a half after the debut of Piers Morgan Tonight, CNN’s prime-time line-up just delivered its lowest rated month in two years. Morgan is earning roughly a third of the viewership that his predecessor Larry King was bringing in toward the end of his run, and Hannity, which airs at the same time on the FOX News Channel, routinely more than quadruples Morgan’s ratings. Even FOX News’ 3am show, Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld, consistently attracts a larger audience than Morgan.
The Piers Morgan Experiment has clearly failed, and it’s just a matter of time before CNN is forced to go back to the drawing board. When they do, I hope they learn from what went wrong. In case they have some trouble figuring it out, maybe I can be of a little help…
In preserving the sit-down, one-on-one interview format, Morgan’s producers should have known that viewers might actually want to hear what guests on the other side of the table have to say. Instead, the standard configuration of the show has been for Morgan to ask a provocative question to his guest, then eagerly interrupt them half way through the first sentence of their answer to explain how he, himself feels about the topic. I can only guess that the justification for the irritating practice was a page borrowed from Bill O’Reilly’s ‘No Spin’ playbook, but guests on Morgan’s show typically aren’t spinning or even debating the host. They’re just trying to complete a thought… and he rarely lets them.
The result is a guest-oriented show that’s all about the host. Thus, when viewers tune in to listen to the advertised guest, they instead are subjected to the imposing personal views of someone they don’t find particularly interesting or thought-provoking. Let’s face it… Even as sharp-tongued as Morgan is, he’s essentially a run of the mill, lockstep liberal who rarely offers any unique insight. There’s already an abundance of cable news personalities who parrot DNC talking points under the guise of moral responsibility. The market’s saturated with them.
CNN clearly felt that Piers Morgan would bring something unique to their network… an edginess factor that they believed they were lacking. It always amuses me what the liberal media considers to be edgy. To them, edginess is the presentation of liberal viewpoints in a louder, more brazen manner than audiences are used to. They think Bill Maher is edgy. They think Joy Behar is edgy. Real edginess would be doing something outside of their own ideological comfort zone.
Imagine if CNN had the guts to fill that time spot with a show hosted by a fresh-faced conservative thinker like a Michele Malkin or even a Mary Katharine Ham – someone they could build a new audience off of. THAT would be an edgy move, but I’m certain CNN would simply laugh off such a notion, even at a time when they’ve got nothing left to lose. In addition to their prime time ratings being at a two year low, their network as a whole is suffering from its lowest overall viewership in ten years.
The one thing CNN has going for them is that they haven’t permanently tarnished their brand with the same broad stroke of hardcore, left-wing activism that MSNBC has. They’re very much a part of the liberal media, but they also have a chance to show potential viewers that they’re willing to offer up something different. For their own sake, they should consider doing that… and fast!