CNN’s new bulldog fails to bare his teeth


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WELL, he's no Larry King, that's for sure. But he's not the tough-talking, borderline-rude British interviewing bulldog that we were told to expect, either.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/01/2011 (4519 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WELL, he’s no Larry King, that’s for sure. But he’s not the tough-talking, borderline-rude British interviewing bulldog that we were told to expect, either.

In his first night as the man who replaced King in CNN’s centre-square prime-time hour, Piers Morgan was more polite than probing, more gentle than jugular-seeking, and more deferential than dogged in his pursuit of answers from his first-ever guest on Piers Morgan Tonight (which airs weeknights at 8 p.m. on CNN).

Now, this unexpected Mr.-Nice-Guy act may have had something to do with the fact his opening-night guest was the queen of American media, Oprah Winfrey, but it isn’t insignificant that when faced with the biggest hitter in all of television, Morgan tossed mostly softballs.

Postmedia Piers Morgan

When he introduced Morgan — best known to most North Americans as the crusty Brit-accented judge on America’s Got Talent — as the guy who would take over the all-news network’s most coveted timeslot after King’s retirement, CNN president Jon Klein noted that “Piers has made his name posing tough questions to public figures, holding them accountable for their words and deeds.”

Not that she has all that much for which to be held to account, but Morgan’s hour-long interview with Oprah played out more like a hand-delivered valentine.

He chatted. He praised. He laughed, hard, at her jokes. And when he asked a moderately probing question to which Oprah didn’t feel like responding, he invariably did take “No” for an answer.

The program opened with a conversation about Winfrey’s just-launched cable network, OWN (which arrives in Canada in March), in which Morgan asked the media queen what it feels like to have a network that bears her name.

After asking Oprah, “How many people do you absolutely, 100 per cent trust?”, Morgan got a numerical answer but a quick and definitive refusal to name who those people are.

The pair chatted about another interview — Winfrey’s recent sit-down with Barbara Walters — and Oprah quickly made it clear that that conversation was the one and only time she will ever address the distasteful rumours that have circulated about the nature of her friendship with best girlfriend Gayle King. Before the phrase “I’m not going there” was even out of Winfrey’s mouth, Morgan was assuring her that he wasn’t, either.

When the dialogue turned to Oprah’s power as a TV producer, Morgan went all fan-boy: “Everything you touch is a hit… Could you just touch me?”

Not exactly the hard-hitting interview style Piers Morgan Tonight‘s pre-launch promotion had promised.

Later, when Oprah mis-heard her interviewer and thought he might have said something a bit saltier than “ship,” Morgan was quick to assure her that he wouldn’t ever lapse into profanity in her presence.

“There are two people I would never swear in front of — one is Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the other is Oprah Winfrey. You are America’s queen.”

When he offered a backhanded compliment to Oprah about her recent gift of a trip to Australia to an entire Oprah show audience, she objected to his use of the word “stunt” to describe it.

“Of course not,” Morgan deferred. “I take it back.”

Morgan’s second-show guest is radio shock jock Howard Stern. You can bet that least half of that conversation won’t be as warm-and-fuzzy polite as Monday’s opener.

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Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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