02.27.14

Piers Morgan’s Comeback Strategy

How Brits can make it in America.

From the beginning, I took special interest in Piers Morgan because, a) we have mutual friends and acquaintances, b) I thought it was time for Larry King to retire and I was hungry for a fresh voice and c) I am married to a Brit and was curious how this would work.

Yes, American television viewers had fallen in love with Simon Cowell, the dangerous British bad boy with, secretly, a big heart.  But Morgan? He would need a lot of different coaching.

My unique viewpoint comes from my early years with my husband David Simone, who was born in London, went to Leicester University and became an entertainment lawyer. Soon after, he took top leadership roles at British record labels including Arista, Phonogram and MCA UK.

He reads many newspapers each day, always has a book or two on hand, keeps his finger on the pulse of not only music, but world politics, fashion, financial crises, sports, the history of many world tensions and more. He is a people person and a family man. But when he finally moved to the United States to launch a new record label for MCA in 1988, there was still a steep cultural learning curve.

Here are some of the simple ways I helped, which could have easily helped Piers Morgan.

First stop: the Kennedy Library in Boston. There we watched all the fabulous off-the-cuff verbal sparring between JFK and the White House correspondents, a high watermark for presidential access and candor. Then we watched a JFK documentary followed by one on RFK.  Among many reactions, David was devastated to learn that the civil rights movement, which he had read about, had happened so recently. It was now much more disturbingly indelible.

We then rented the whole series of Eyes On the Prize and watched the episodes back to back. It was a life-changing immersion, one I would recommend for every serious foreign journalist or businessperson. There are so many nuances in American politics that as we went along over time, it was possible to explain why one politician is forgiven, another is not, and more.

For most of my adult life, I have always felt independent of any political party--an observer rather than a joiner. Given that, I was able to explain to my British stepchildren why no matter what was spoken during the 2008 election, John McCain and Barack Obama would most likely take the same action with the same timing in winding down the wars.

I know, Piers Morgan wasn’t doing a Sunday morning public affairs show. He just needed to have been steeped in a bit more of the American journey so he could have maybe talked with Oprah, his inaugural guest, about Martin Luther King, Jr. for an interview that would air on the civil rights leader’s birthday.

Maybe someone should have told him his promo pictures shouldn’t have been in front of the make-up mirror.

And someone should have warned him against not only having the Kardashian sisters sit on his lap, but also sending out perhaps the creepiest publicity photos in CNN history.

I don’t really know enough to blame Morgan. As a producer, I’d much rather work with a person on camera that you have to pull back than one you must push forward. But no one was pulling him back.

And who told him his purpose in coming to America was to teach us about gun control all the while fracturing the statistics from the U.K. and speaking over those who tried to correct him.

The key is you can criticize this country on TV only if viewers believe you know this country and love this country… between New York and L.A.

In fact, my husband became the most patriotic person I know and seeing through his eyes made me even more patriotic. He even loves that Americans give second chances to failed politicians…invoking Winston Churchill.

Maybe Piers will have a second chance, too. He has a big personality made for TV, plenty of moxie, ego and mental sharpness. Just look how he made mincemeat of the legal panel investigating his role in the Murdoch newspaper hacking scandal. I watched it all. He made them look like amateurs.

But the damage has been done at CNN.

Jeff Zucker is under pressure, having failed to launch a successful new CNN morning show, just as he failed –hands on– launching “Katie” in syndication. (Hello, 1978′s calling, they want their talk show back.)

Zucker needs a great big splashy hit. Maybe if Jay Leno can get over the NBC 10:00 purgatory thing with his old boss, all will be forgiven and it could be Zucker’s biggest booking ever. CNN has the money, now just shake that tree.

And let’s hope Piers Morgan learns to genuinely love America before he rolls in again to teach us right from wrong in politics and TV.