On the day it was announced he would be taking over for Larry King, Piers Morgan hit the right tone. Morgan followed the simple playbook: offer an over-the-top nod to the outgoing, and try to stir a bit of interest in your opportunity.
"I have watched ‘Larry King Live’ for much of the last 25 years, and dreamed of one day filling the legendary suspenders of the man I consider to be the greatest TV interviewer of them all," Morgan was quoted as saying.
Last week, King did not exactly offer Morgan the same courtesy, suggesting on radio that his replacement has not been as provocative or “dangerous” as he promised. And, King indicated that CNN and Morgan may have over-hyped the new show.
It will be interesting to watch as King goes on “Piers Morgan Tonight” this week to be interviewed by his successor. It would be more interesting if Morgan were wound a bit tighter. This is not exactly Conan facing off with Leno.
“May have to twang those suspenders to prove how dangerous I really am,” Morgan tweeted Tuesday.
Actually, it will probably play out much like one of King’s high-profile interviews. Morgan will ask King a run of softball questions. He’ll make light of King’s critique, probably offer some mock shock.
No doubt, both entertainers are enjoying the buildup to the faux showdown. Morgan can use any ratings boost, and King isn’t exactly reveling in being on the sidelines.
Back in the fall when it was announced he would be taking over for King, Morgan told the New York Times that a British paper describing him as “a smiling James Bond-style assassin” may have been a bit much. “I think that’s slightly overstating it, but I like finding things out about people. I like rattling cages,” he said.
In the months before his January debut, it did not appear as if Morgan turned on an aggressive hype machine. CNN appeared to follow suit, perhaps wanting to lower expectations.
The network was deferential to King in its promotions. If memory serves, it ran unmemorable spots noting Morgan would be coming, but offering no taglines suggesting a new generation or style. There was not “A new interviewer for a new age” or “Lots of steak, lots of sizzle.”
Both would have hinted at two prominent criticisms of King – his inability to keep up with technology and penchant for temperate questions.
Say what you want about George Bush, but he has been commendable in his silence as he has made it clear he has no intention of evaluating his successor’s performance. King unfortunately is hard-wired to continue to draw attention to himself. Some people can’t let go.
So, he went onto Morgan’s British home turf for a radio interview last week, saying Morgan doesn’t exactly have the elite on notice.
“He was going to be dangerous. He was going to be water cooler talk. Wait ’til you see me, I’m different,” King said. “He’s good. He’s not that dangerous. Maybe it’s hard to just step into anything. But if there’s one thing, he may have been oversold.”
King continued: “He’s certainly not bad. He’s certainly an acceptable host. He asks good questions, maybe he interrupts a little too much at times.”
Actually, that’s been a positive. When a guest drones on, Morgan refreshingly presses for an answer.
Are King’s comments about him not rattling enough cages fair? Not long after Morgan started, winds of change blew in Egypt and now Libya. The subject matter requires a certain even-handedness.
Until Qaddafi agrees to come on.