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Piers Morgan Shown The Door, While CNN Weighs Its Next Step


CNN has announced that it's canceling "Piers Morgan Live." The primetime show has suffered from weak ratings and controversy. Piers Morgan is British and a former tabloid editor and reality show judge. He was named three years ago to replace Larry King as CNN's most prominent interviewer. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from our New York bureau to sort through this. And first, David, why ultimately did Morgan fail? How would you characterize his approach?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, I mean, you could describe the cancellation of his show and the failure entirely to pretty poor ratings, particularly of late, and you'd be right. But I think there's more to it than that. I think there was really a question, you know, CNN has to confront this thing why do you tune in if there's not breaking news at that moment. And there's real question as to whether - as to whom he was speaking to and whom he was speaking for.

Piers Morgan didn't come promising in a strong ideological point of view like Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow over on MSNBC. He seemed to think that because he'd been a celebrity in Britain and a celebrity judge here in the U.S. that that was enough to get people to tune in and enough to get these famous newsmakers and celebrities on the show. But he wasn't able to book enough big guests and he didn't turned out to be enough of a big personality himself.

SIEGEL: But the measure of his failure here was in the ratings, and I want you to give us some sense of what size of audiences we're talking about.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, for all the headlines and for all of the click-bait that we see about various cable hosts, we're talking about a pretty small universe. I mean, really top cable shows on - in cable news, particularly on Fox, you know, might exceed two million. For other stations, CNN or MSNBC would be delighted to have all of their primetime hosts have about one million viewers. In fact, for a guy like Piers Morgan, even though he's at 9 p.m., a pretty marquee time of day and night, you know, he was clocking in a half million of late, more like sometimes a third of a million viewers.

That's not that much if you think about that, you know, people talk about the problems with broadcast news and the old legacy, big three networks, all of their nightly newscasts have far more than that, in the millions. NPR's news - major newscasts are heard by far more people. This is a relatively small niche and he wasn't being able, really, to exceed in that.

SIEGEL: Conservatives have seized upon several of Morgan's beliefs, especially his support of greater gun regulation. How did that play into the show's demise?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you certainly heard a lot of conservatives bristling at that and attacking him for that. I think that was more emblematic than determining his failing and the canceling of his show. I mean, after all, as we said, it's really a small niche you have to appeal to. But you've got to connect with viewers as well. I think he was so argumentative. He comes from a more braising and bristling Anglo style of interviewing, but he didn't give the sense and the feel that he really enjoyed or admired his new country and his viewers, his fellow Americans.

And so when he's hectoring them on gun rights, even for people who might have some sympathies for where he's coming from, they felt that this is a guy who's just lecturing us as opposed to this guy who's advocating a point of view held by many Americans.

SIEGEL: The decision to drop Piers Morgan was made by CNN's Jeff Zucker, who has been the chief executive for the past year or so, a little bit more. What does this say about his leadership there?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, Zucker inherited Morgan. He inherited a show with problematic ratings. But he inherited a lineup with problematic ratings. And he has said that his main focus needs to be on primetime. He's already tweaked some of the shows on weekends, had some success with the celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, a kind of reality-adventure-travel show, had some success bringing documentaries to primetime.

But he really hasn't solved the riddle of how to get people to tune in to CNN when there's not breaking news. And Piers Morgan was just sort of occupying the space, kind of the last gasp of what had been Larry King's interview show. This wasn't going to be the solution for the long term and Zucker says, all right. I've been here a year. Time to get to work.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks, David.


SIEGEL: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik on changes at CNN. The network is canceling the program "Piers Morgan Live." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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