NEW YORK (Reuters) - British television host Piers Morgan is to replace veteran CNN talk show host Larry King in January, bringing what is expected to be a more acerbic tone to the long-running prime time U.S. interview show.
CNN said on Wednesday that Morgan, 45, a former British tabloid newspaper editor and currently a judge on the popular NBC show “America’s Got Talent”, will start his CNN show in January. King announced in June he would end “Larry King Live” after a 25-year reign.
Morgan said he would bring “journalistic rigor” to the job and said he would like one of his first interviews to be with U.S. President Barack Obama.
“Outside of America, people love him (Obama)...I think he’s an amazing charismatic figure who’s going through a tough time at the moment, and the midterm elections are coming....I’d love to sit down with him and have a frank interview,” Morgan told The Hollywood Reporter.
He also said he would love to be the first to interview “Mel Gibson or Lindsay Lohan or whoever is in the news who is relevant and current.”
The name of Morgan’s CNN show, which will air weekdays at 9pm, has not been announced but it was billed by CNN as a “candid, in-depth newsmaker interview program” based in New York with Morgan also working from London and Los Angeles.
Morgan has hosted a variety of shows in Britain and has a reputation on “America’s Got Talent” as a caustic critic in the vein of fellow Briton Simon Cowell. He has also appeared alongside Cowell on “Britain’s Got Talent” since 2007.
Morgan will keep his job with “America’s Got Talent”. But he is expected to leave his four-year long judging stint on sister show “Britain’s Got Talent”, which is scheduled to resume in January 2011, according to industry sources.
The winner of Donald Trump’s “The Celebrity Apprentice” reality show in 2008, Morgan will however keep his job on British network ITV, where his program “Life Stories” has included interviews with celebrities and politicians, the New York Times said.
The 76-year old King, who forged a reputation for nonconfrontational interviews, will host his last show in mid December, CNN said.
Morgan said in a statement he had “dreamed of one day filling the legendary suspenders of the man I consider to be the greatest TV interviewer of them all.”
Morgan beat other candidates said to be in the running for the prime time TV job, including “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest and CBS television news anchor Katie Couric.
Morgan’s career has not been without controversy.
He was fired from his post as editor of Britain’s Daily Mirror in 2004 after the paper ran photos, later revealed as fake, of British soldiers apparently abusing an Iraqi detainee. Several years earlier, he was investigated for, and later cleared of, charges of insider trading relating to shares tipped in a Daily Mirror financial column.
Morgan has a record of reducing people to tears — whether it be a 12 year-old contestant on “America’s Got Talent” in 2006 or usually aloof politicians like then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who wept while talking in a 2010 TV interview about the death of his 10-day-old daughter.
Morgan will have his work cut out on CNN. “Larry King Live” has lost about half of its audience since 2008 while cable rivals MSNBC and Fox News have gained viewers with their confrontational-style political news shows.
Morgan told The Hollywood Reporter he did not want to “force my opinions down the viewers’ throat.”
“I want this to be the most credible and popular interview program in the world. I want to create headlines and get ratings up — particularly in America. I’d like to get CNN back to No. 1. Everything else I’ve done on television has been No. 1.”, Morgan added.
Editing by Jill Serjeant