Is Piers Morgan CNN's Savior? So Far, at Least, the Answer Is No

Piers Morgan is no Larry King: His ratings have fallen below that of his predecessor in his first two weeks on the air.After CNN aggressively promoted the show for months, Piers Morgan Tonight debuted -- with Oprah Winfrey as its first guest -- to an audience of more than 2.1 million two weeks ago. But the program's ratings have fallen off a cliff since then, declining more than 60% in both its total audience and its target demographic of viewers between 25 and 54 years old.

The ratings decline, although expected, underscores the challenges facing the Time Warner (TWX) channel as it competes against Fox News and MSNBC. For example, CNN President Jon Klein -- who called U.K.-born Piers Morgan a "natural fit" for the network's Larry King replacement back in September -- was fired less than a month after announcing the new hire.

Also, Morgan's ratings so far rank below King's ratings for the same period a year ago. Some claim the comparison is unfair: After all, in January 2010, King drew a big audience when he hosted a telethon for the victims of the Haiti earthquake.

But CNN's ratings this year have been boosted by surging interest in news in the Middle East. Regardless, any sustained decline in ratings may anger advertisers, whose purchases of commercial time are based on audience guarantees. Failing to meet these targets usually means that a network will have to provide free commercial time, also known as "make goods".

Its Best Shot

It seems unlikely, though, that the ratings have become an issue yet. And Morgan appears to be in no danger of immediate cancellation.

The network, which declined to comment, is giving the show its best shot. Katie Thomson, a former booker for Barbara Walters, has joined the Piers Morgan Tonight as its senior producer. And CNN's prime-time ratings have improved somewhat with Keith Olbermann's departure from MSNBC (50% growth in total viewers and 65% growth in the target demographic).

In an interview with DailyFinance, Horizon Media's Brad Adgate notes that the network has little choice but to be patient considering that the 9 p.m. time slot is among the most competitive in television. "It's not great... (But) I don't think they are hitting the panic button yet," he says. "The sooner [the viewership decline] plateaus, the better for the network. ... This is going to be a long haul."

Of course, Piers Morgan Tonight is hardly CNN's only challenge. Parker Spitzer, which debuted in October to scathing reviews, has also proved to be a ratings disappointment. As The New York Times reported in December: "The show has been troubled by backstage tensions that have spilled out in gossip columns and have given rise to speculation -- and some wishful thinking among his supporters -- that CNN could make [former New York Gov. Eliot] Spitzer the sole host." In the story, CNN executives denied it was considering such a move.

Unrealistic Expectations

Expectations for Morgan may have been unrealistically high. Larry King Live was the backbone of CNN's prime-time lineup for 30 years, an eternity in television. Morgan's style is far different than King's, who -- unlike Morgan -- would probably never pick fights with his rivals on Twitter.

The best that CNN can realistically hope for is to raise Morgan's ratings to "somewhat in line with what Larry King was doing," according to Adgate. And that's, of course, only possible if Piers Morgan Tonight catches on.

Like his suspender-loving predecessor, Morgan tries to be topical. Within the target demo, his best-rated show was his Jan. 18 broadcast with Howard Stern, which attracted 551,000 viewers in the target age range -- 6% more than the debut broadcast with Winfrey the night before. The Stern show's attracted a total of 1.3 million viewers, second only to Oprah.

But ever since then, Piers Morgan Tonight's viewership has eroded steadily, reaching a low of 498,000 total audience -- and 164,000 in the target demo -- on Jan. 27, when two of the Khardashian sisters were his guests.

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Piers Morgan is way too nosy. always wants to know numbers.., I always skip his show!

August 22 2011 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

See today's questioning. Piers Morgan is a criminal in Britain. Sleaze!!!!!

July 19 2011 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Piers Morgan must be fired. By his own confession in his book he used illegal phone hacking to get a story. He MUST be fired or CNN knowingly employes criminals!

July 19 2011 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was surprised month's ago when Piers was announced as Larry's replacement. On the advice of Simon Cowell, go figure!! If I wanted to get my news and entertainment from a Brit, I'd watch the BBC. I agree that there has got to be plenty of American journalists/broadcasters/personalities with far more likeability than him, that people might actually want to tune into.

And why is it that "America's Got Talent" was judged by 2 brit's and a washed up German pop star. Atleast Howie Mandel was an upgrade from "The Hoff", barely. I can't imagine that show does very well either. Heyyy, maybe that's why Simon recommended him to CNN, so he can be replaced on Simon's, "America's Got Talent". But then again, Piers loves the spotlight too much, to let that show go.

February 12 2011 at 5:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Taylor

After about the third week, I began to realize just exactly how many times he either cut off or interrupted his guests. When that happens, it appears as though
he is not listening. He is quite full of himself and frankly not all that likeable. I think it would help him to slow down a little so that we can
breathe when listeneing to him. Unfortunately I get the feeling that he is
a control freak, or perhaps that is just to hide his insecurities, whatever
it is, I am beginning to get bored with him trying to shine the light on
himself. He probably could be quite amusing and witty, but he works too hard at it.

February 12 2011 at 1:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So the Kardashian sisters failed to "Take Piers Morgan" -- could this be a sign that interest in this family is finally starting to abate? I pray so, but it's probably because the missing sister was the one with the largest breasts and butt. The bigger question, however, is why on earth did Piers think anyone on earth would wsste an hour listening to those two women ramble on about anything. I'd rather eat glass. But I did get a good laugh reading that this particular show scored rock bottom in the ratings. Kardashians one and all (and talk show hosts), take the hint -- please!

February 04 2011 at 5:30 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC and ABC have no clue

February 04 2011 at 3:54 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

When the show's promos feature a Piers voiceover that he plans to interview the most important people in the world and the next day you find those Karadshian girls on, I am not going to take you serious. Ironically, he asks them how do you feel when people say you don't have any talent?"

I miss Larry!

February 04 2011 at 2:37 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


February 04 2011 at 1:22 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Bruce A. Helder

CNN has a simple problem. Nobody likes Piers and they never will. He will always be an outsider without the American credentials that make anyone believe or care what he thinks.

February 03 2011 at 8:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Bruce A. Helder's comment
Norma Lee

The simple problem with Piers,is that he brings his English "page 6" ..expose type non-journalistic proclivities to the American audience.While Larry once-in-a while would be forced, probably by his producers,to sit currrent "celebraties" to his table. Piers,or to give him a benefit of doubt, his lame producer ,so far have not had any one of SUBSTANCE on the program.The only program I didn't click immediately off was Howard Stern's appearance because he immediately began to interview Piers, who had no idea he was being cuckhold.
The man is to use a benfitting monocle ..A BORE with no cheery-O

April 06 2011 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply