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Sunday 9 December 2018

Dangerous? Piers is just a pussycat in US debut as he plays safe with Oprah

Piers Morgan probably did not need the admonition he got last night from the second guest on his new primetime interview show for CNN.

"I am glad you are confident," Howard Stern, the veteran radio shock jock, tells him, according to a promotional clip. "But, my friend, you have a lot to prove."

It would not be surprising if the former Daily Mirror editor and reality show judge is quivering a little this week. Although the debut show drew nearly 2.1 million viewers -- more than triple the average audience of the Larry King slot it replaced -- reviews for his interview with Oprah Winfrey were rather ho-hum.



Emotional

Things were not made easier by CNN itself, which had so relentlessly promoted Monday's debut in recent weeks. Struggling against its main competitors in the US -- Fox News and MSNBC -- the network has a great deal riding on the English import they chose to replace King, who held the same slot for decades.

"I am a perfectly badly adjusted British guy," Morgan said to an emotional Winfrey on Monday during a brief discussion about how much therapy each of them had undergone over the years. (Neither has had any.) That he means to play up his Britishness in his new job is fairly obvious. He even likened Winfrey to queen Elizabeth.

More importantly, Morgan, with his flushed cheeks and eager laugh, apparently hopes to exploit those stereotypes that allegedly set the English apart from Americans, like their willingness to self-flagellate.

In general, English people think that teasing is funnier than Americans do. And as Ricky Gervais so skillfully demonstrated as host of the Golden Globes at the weekend, they think it is their civic duty to show Americans why crossing the line is a good thing.

Certainly, Morgan can do the self-deprecation part. The only question that really mattered was the last one he posed to Winfrey. Did he do okay or will he be flayed alive?

"You have been surprising," she responded before the credits began to roll. "Surprisingly bad?" Morgan asked her instantly, unabashedly flaunting his insecurity.

"No, just surprising," she said. It was an enigmatic verdict, but meant as a compliment, she added.

What she probably meant was that while Morgan blurred the line between charming and fawning -- he had not been aggressive or even rude with her, which many might have expected. This deference may work well with the traditional audience that tuned in to see King. But it is not how Morgan was sold to viewers. He said in promotional trailers that this would be the "dangerous" interview programme where anything could happen.

But Morgan the tiger was notably absent with Winfrey as they both purred loudly.

Thus no check was put on the flow of philosophical syrup from Winfrey, who is also launching her own television network, OWN, this month.

Her brand is love, she repeated many times, and she wanted all of us to understand the journey that has taken her to this point and how happy it makes her.

Morgan, it seemed, had jettisoned his gag reflex somewhere over the Atlantic, not blinking even when Winfrey explained that "it's all about opening your heart space so you can love more".

And while he had clearly done his research, he seemed unable to go beyond being impressed by Winfrey and grateful she had agreed to be interviewed by him.

Possibly, it was not smart of him to highlight a moment from an interview she gave last month to Barbara Walters on rival network ABC when asked about rumours about her relationship with her friend Gayle King. He even showed a clip. Look! That was the Winfrey interview you should have watched.

Pat Stacey's verdict, page 35

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