When Piers Morgan came from the U.K. to the U.S. to host a prime-time show on CNN, it was hoped that the outspoken Brit would be the Simon Cowell of TV journalism. It turned out he was less the Simon Cowell of American Idol and more the Simon Cowell of The X-Factor: after three low-rated years, David Carr of the New York Times reports, Morgan’s show will be done at CNN in March.
In his postmortem (for which Morgan, to his credit, did an interview) Carr observantly cited two factors in particular: Morgan’s outsider status in America (“Mr. Morgan might want to lay off the steady cricket references”), and his strident crusade against guns (“Mr. Morgan’s approach to gun regulation was more akin to King George III, peering down his nose at the unruly colonies”).
But really, Morgan’s failure to launch is a little like one of those classic British murder mysteries: there are far too many motives for viewers to have turned on Morgan to pick just one. Morgan’s defiant, bangers-and-mash Britishness didn’t help, but Larry King was a classic American TV-interviewer type–and Morgan was called in to replace him because King’s ratings had gone so feeble. (Canadian-born Peter Jennings, not a naturalized citizen until 2003, did well enough for himself.) His anti-gun advocacy kicked in halfway into his show’s run, after the Aurora shootings of summer 2012, and he was not exactly on a ratings tear before then.
There were also simple matters of personality: his abrasive superiority had him clashing not just with gun owners but recently with a transgender interview subject. His brash, tabloid-y air of self-promotion didn’t really fit with the rest of CNN’s vibe. His preference for longform personality interviews didn’t make him the best fit for breaking-news periods or the long slogs of campaign coverage. Meanwhile, his links as a former newspaper editor to the British phone hacking investigation didn’t do him in, but they didn’t argue in favor of keeping him.
There are too many fingerprints here to point to any one culprit, but ultimately it was CNN’s new chief, Jeff Zucker, who ended things. Morgan was Zucker’s problem and another executive’s hire, and British or American, pro- or anti-gun, that’s always an unsurvivable combination.
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