By Ben Grossman -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/31/2008 8:00:00 PM
Who the hell is Piers Morgan and why is he hosting a primetime talk show on NBC?
If the acid-tongued Brit gets his way, you may be asking that question early next year. Turns out the America's Got Talent judge and winner of last season's Celebrity Apprentice is bending the network's ear about doing a talk show.
But Jimmy Fallon needn't worry just yet. First of all, the talks are nothing more than informal. Plus, Morgan is eyeing primetime, not late night. He wants to do an hour-long sitdown with a big name in front of an audience.
But with his outspoken nature and background as a tabloid editor in the United Kingdom, he doesn't want to do just another talk show.
“I think there's a gap in American television for that one-on-one, slightly edgy,” he told me last week. “Most talk shows you get seven minutes with a guest and they are plugging something.”
His ideal first two guests would be Britney Spears and Barack Obama—sadly, in that order.
While NBC execs say no formal talks have been held, it's not the first time a primetime talk show has been mentioned at the network. NBC has floated the idea by Jay Leno in its probably futile attempt to keep him from jumping ship.
As for Morgan, he says he is locked up for the next couple of months, but could have something on the air by early 2009.
So, would he make a good host? He's a relative unknown in the U.S. compared to the U.K., but has more name recognition than Conan O'Brien did when he started. He's got the experience, including a current stint as a talk-show host in the U.K. So, what he would need is credibility and honesty.
Credibility he has, at least in my book. Here are three reasons why:
Number one, he calls David Hasselhoff a “tool.” Enough said.
Secondly, he says the best television show ever made was The West Wing. Spot on, as they say across the pond.
And last but certainly not least, he recently turned down the gig hosting Miss Universe in Vietnam, a job that Jerry Springer ended up with. Why did he scoff? He already had plans that weekend—to attend a cricket match. Now, no one in America except Bingo America creator Andrew Glassman cares about cricket, but picking sports over girls is a solid move. Then again, that logic also explains why I had a lot of lonely nights in high school and college.
In the honesty department, Morgan's pretty solid. Ask him about his impressions from watching the Democratic National Convention last week and he isn't shy. “TV coverage here of world events is almost non-existent,” he says. “It is all America, America, America. I think it shows Americans need to get out more and realize there is a world out there.”
But he's also more than willing to trash himself. There was the time in 2003 that he called President Bush an “idiot” for falling off a Segway. Then, unbelievably last summer, Morgan did the same thing, breaking a few ribs.
“Since only he and I appear to have ever fallen off one, I think the makers of the Segway can probably still justifiably claim the machines are 'idiot-proof,'” Morgan wrote in a newspaper column at the time.
And the outspoken Morgan, who has long pushed the envelope as a journalist, is also the first to admit he has been fired from multiple past jobs.
Despite that track record, he reckons it's time he gets hired once again by NBC. In fact, when I asked him how NBC could reverse its slumping fortunes, he had a straightforward answer. “You give me more airtime,” he says. “Look at the ratings for CelebrityApprentice and America's Got Talent and you do the math.”
Morgan might have credibility and honesty…just don't expect modesty.
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