Piers Morgan, the man chosen to take over Larry King's CNN throne, made his much-hyped talk-show debut last night with an extended interview of Oprah Winfrey. (Watch a clip.) Though renowned in his native England as a jack-of-all-trades journalist who inspires strong reactions, the chatty Brit is best known in America as a judge on the lightweight TV hit "America's Got Talent." Morgan has relentlessly promoted himself as someone who will ask tough questions — a CNN ad claimed he would "redefine the art of the interview" — and has even touted his ability to make guests cry on camera, the polar opposite of the notoriously gentle King. Did Morgan deliver?
He went too easy on Oprah: The Winfrey interview was a letdown, says Alessandra Stanley at The New York Times, "a far more predictable conversation than the... somewhat unmoored give-and-take viewers were used to on Mr. King’s live show." Morgan is "known for jaunty irreverence, but he got nowhere trying to tease his guest about her spiritual grandiosity," and was "probably too timid" in getting her to open up about anything else. The good thing about his "downer of a first day" is that "he has nowhere to go but up."
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He picked the wrong guest: Morgan "came across as polite and intelligent," and he "clearly does his homework," says Chris Rovzar at New York. Unfortunately, "his choice of Oprah Winfrey was a drastic error." Oprah is "a legendary interviewer and an alpha dog, and she put Piers through his paces" by deflecting his most probing inquiries, turning questions around on him, and generally making Morgan "look like a commoner." When he asked "How'd I do?" at the end, "it seemed like the whole interview was about seeking Oprah's approval."
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He needs to bond with his viewers: Talking to Oprah, Morgan was "cheeky, flirtatious, flattering and playful," says James Poniewozik at Time. But beyond his interviewing style, the first show "didn't give us much to go on," since CNN decided to avoid anything "that involved Morgan making any kind of direct connection with, or even acknowledgment of, the home audience." Morgan will have to establish himself as a personality; still, at least he is clearly "someone who approaches the job with relish."
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