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Monday, February 24, 2014

Piers Is Out, Who Is In?

I'm glad to see Piers Morgan is losing his CNN show. While Larry King had become a parody of his softball-questions self towards the end, Morgan was actually annoying to watch and his show quickly became Must Not See TV.

Coming from the gotcha world of British tabloids, he seemed to want to make headlines every night, but the key to doing a good interview show isn't having the host steal the spotlight. The key is to have a staff of producers who book great guests and a host who is prepared enough to ask great questions -- and then shut up and listen to the answers. Morgan seemed incapable of that.

All day, the web has been full of speculation over who will get that slot on CNN, and several have mentioned Jay Leno as a possibility. There's no way that will happen. First, CNN needs a new host now, and it's extremely unlikely NBC would let him do it while still under contract to them through September. Second, CNN is run by Jeff Zucker, who Leno detests after the primetime debacle during the "Tonight Show" host swap with Conan O'Brien. Third, Jay is a comedian and wants to tell jokes -- not do serious interviews with newsmakers.

I wish Bob Costas would get the job. I was a big fan of his NBC "Later" show, in which he proved his talents as a smart, informed, interested interviewer. Frankly, I'm surprised that we haven't seen DVDs of that series released yet, but there are probably huge rights issues involved. Would NBC (and MLB Network) let Bob do a nightly hour on CNN? Doubtful.

I fear that Ryan Seacrest will get the show. He was Larry King's regular fill-in guy for a couple of years, and would be the opposite of Morgan for one obvious reason -- Seacrest has no discernible personality whatsoever. He has proven that he's a workhorse between his morning radio show, his syndicated radio show, hosting "American Idol," hosting "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve," and shoving the Kardashians down the throat of a gagging America -- but that doesn't mean he'd be good for CNN. While Seacrest could handle the lightweight interviews, I don't see him pressing Chuck Hagel on why he's reducing the military budget, or moderating a debate over raising the minimum wage.

Of course, King himself said today that he'd be open to returning to his old slot, but it would be a mistake for CNN to take that step backwards. You don't reboot a show and attract younger demographics with an 80-year-old man as host.

It might be time for Zucker to consider some of the people producing great podcasts, perhaps giving four of them a one-night-a-week show in that time slot (with documentaries airing Fridays). Or trying to woo America's best interviewer, Terry Gross, away from her longtime role as master inquisitor on NPR's "Fresh Air." Or, he could stay in house with Don Lemon, whose profile has been on the rise for the last year and is both smart and quick-witted enough to handle whatever the producers throw at him.

Whoever gets the show will be fighting an uphill battle against Rachel Maddow and Megyn Kelly for cable news ratings, but there's also an enormous audience that isn't watching CNN, Fox, or MSNBC at that time of night because they're sick of agenda-driven lectures and arguments. CNN needs to bring some of those viewers back to the wasteland that has been the Piers Morgan Hour Of Boredom, and the sooner the better.