Though much of the interview featured more love taps than punches, Piers Morgan did confront Larry King Wednesday night about remarks King made recently on a British radio show that seemed sharply critical of Morgan.
Morgan, of course, is the host of “Piers Morgan Tonight,” the show seen weeknights at 9/8c on CNN that succeeded the venerable “Larry King Live,” which left the airwaves in December after 25 years.
King was Morgan’s guest for the first half of “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Wednesday – King’s first visit to his own former CNN studio (now sporting a new set designed for Morgan) since his final telecast.
The British-born Morgan raised the issue of King’s BBC radio interview in their second segment together. “Now, Larry, look, I have spent the last few months saying following you is like following Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t have paid you higher praise [and] you go in my backyard and say I’m oversold,” Morgan said, sounding crestfallen.
On the British radio show, King had criticized the way CNN promoted Morgan in the weeks leading up to the premiere of Morgan’s show, “warning” viewers that Morgan was a “dangerous” interviewer. King felt that was an exaggeration that unrealistically raised viewers’ expectations for “Piers Morgan Tonight.”
“I think one of the problems they did was oversell it,” King said on the radio. “He was going to be dangerous. He was going to be watercooler talk. Wait until you see me, I’m different…. He’s good. He’s not that dangerous…. They might have been better off just starting quiet.”
The Brooklyn-born King, 77, also said “the public might have trouble adjusting [to him because he’s] British.”
On “Piers Morgan Tonight,” King reiterated his feeling that CNN should have toned down the rhetoric in promoting Morgan. “Why can’t you just say, ‘Piers Morgan, I’m coming, watch me.’ [Or] ‘Piers Morgan starts next Monday.’ What’s wrong with that?”
“I suppose I’ve always oversold myself,” Morgan said. “I quite like doing that. It’s quite funny.”
“But then it’s disappointing when you don’t [come across as dangerous],” King said.
“Well, to you it is,” Morgan countered. “It was to me. I think it’s been going quite well.”
Their chat was actually very amiable, even entertaining. For King’s part, as the interview subject instead of the interviewer, King seemed much more relaxed than he ever did on the other side of the table.
Morgan was incredibly flattering of King. “I actually feel [it’s an] incredible privilege and an honor that I am replacing you at CNN,” Morgan said. “I don’t feel like I’m replacing you. You can’t replace someone like you. And everyday I do this my admiration for what you achieved grows. Because I’ve done 22 shows. I feel like I’ve been in a war zone. And you did 7,000 shows in 25 years. . .”
Morgan also said he didn’t really mean it when he seemed to tell David Letterman recently on Letterman’s “Late Show” that he’d like to take a swing at Larry. “Letterman said to me, ‘I need you to punch somebody to get the ratings up.’ And I said, ‘What if it was Larry?’ and we decided that punching you would not be a good move.”
Morgan even asked King why King felt the ratings for “Larry King Live” fell so steeply in his last two years or so. And King gave a thoughtful, astute answer that accurately defined the world of contemporary, cable-TV talk.
Said he, “I think television changed. I think it just – maybe this kind of format is going to be hard. . . . It’s now the screaming host. The guest is a prop. It’s what the host thinks. It’s like the old joke about enough about me, let’s talk about you, what do you think of me?”