Piers Morgan Tonight: Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey, Ricky Gervais, Ratings

Piers Morgan has almost completed his first week as Larry King's replacement, boosted by a lucky booking coup in Ricky Gervais. How's he doing so far? Shannon Donnelly grades his first shows.

John Shearer

Monday, January 17, 2011

Guest: Oprah Winfrey Ratings: 2.1 million Ratings for Larry King Live, Monday, January 18, 2010: 1.1 million Notable guest quote: "I am very clear that my life and my purpose is bigger than myself. This isn't, you know, this isn't all about me having houses and shoes. It's about, how can I be used for something greater than myself? And that is why I'm here. That is why Negro me, former colored girl in Mississippi, has a network. Because I know what to do with it. I know how to use it for something that's greater than my own self-whatever." Notable Piers quote: "There are two people I would never swear in front of. One is her majesty the queen, and the other is Oprah Winfrey." British/American Dictionary: Morgan: I’m just trying to picture what it’s like being you. When you wake up in the morning and go, "Bloody hell, I’m Oprah Winfrey!" Do you ever have that? Winfrey: Well I don’t do, "Bloody hell, I’m Oprah Winfrey."

For the second time in as many months, the Queen of Talk found herself in the hotseat—oh, the perils of having something to promote! Only this time she vowed not to cry. And she stuck to her word, only coming close to tears once when discussing Martin Luther King, Jr. The hour was light on revelations—thanks to her decades of experience grilling other people, she’s become quite deft at side-stepping personal questions she doesn’t feel like answering, and Morgan didn’t push too hard. But the banter was at least interesting, and it’s always nice to see Oprah on the other side of the microphone.

Grade: B-…light on revelations, heavy on banter, still a fun way to pass an hour.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest: Howard Stern Ratings: 1.3 million Ratings for Larry King Live, Tuesday, January 19, 2010: 1.7 million Notable guest quote: "Jay [Leno] is insane, Jay is a crook and the whole world knows exactly what he’s up to. He steals a tremendous amount of material. He’s not fit to scrub David Letterman’s feet. I don’t know why he’s beaten David Letterman in the ratings, it’s beyond my comprehension. America must be filled with morons who at night lay in bed, and the ones who are watching him must be in a coma." Notable Piers quote: "You're my second show. I want to have a third show, all right?" British/American Dictionary: Stern: To be successful in England is very nice. But England is the size of Philadelphia. To conquer England, it takes about two days.

Right out of the gate, Howard Stern started needling Morgan by slamming his predecessor ("I want to congratulate you on unseating a 95-year-old man. Good for you. Poor Larry King is sitting home right now pulling what few hairs he has in his head out. I mean, what a nut job."), and questioning the host’s credentials. Morgan did an admirable job of trying to corral Stern ("I'm doing the interview, Howard. It's not your show. I am in charge."), which is admittedly a bit like herding cats. While Stern mostly stuck to his comfort areas of discussion—namely, his penis—he did get the blogosphere chattering when he tore into Tonight Show host Jay Leno, calling him "insane" and "a crook."

Grade: B…after twenty-plus decades on the air, the shock jock has shocked us about as much as he ever will, but there were still a few buzzy moments.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest: Condoleezza Rice Ratings: 1.028 million Ratings for Larry King Live, Wednesday, January 20, 2010: 1.039 million Notable guest quote: "Iran, for instance, is a country that I think is actually susceptible to sanctions, and to the kinds of activities that we're taking. It's a weakening government. It is a government that we have been able to isolate. And because Iranians—by the way, 70 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30. They're very outward looking people. They want to be a part of the world. They're not as isolated as Saddam Hussein's Iraq was." Notable Piers quote: "Does it worry you, as somebody who in terms of personal probity has never been questioned, a woman of integrity, that you're doing business with President Karzai, who most people would say on the ground is, you know, borderline corrupt?" British/American Dictionary: Rice: I'd cook you gumbo. Morgan: Really? Rice: Yes. Morgan: What's gumbo?

Political blogs seemed less-than-impressed with Morgan’s inquiries into Condoleezza Rice’s dating life during his sit-down with the former secretary of state, but that hardly paints a full picture of the interview. Around the halfway mark, the pair delved into some insightful political commentary, with Morgan pressing her repeatedly on the inchoate nature of the "war on terror." And for those with a taste for lighter fare, Morgan played a neat clip of Rice playing the piano for Aretha Franklin.

Grade: A-…a nice balance of fizz and gravitas.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guest: Ricky Gervais Ratings: 1.025 million Ratings for Larry King Live, Thursday, January 21, 2010: . 97 million Notable guest quote: "My main aim isn’t to shock people at all. I want to make people laugh. I want to do a good job. But on my terms, really. It’s not a popularity contest with me." Notable Piers quote: "Someone asked me, you know, what do you think, as a fellow Brit on TV in America, what do you think of what happened to Ricky? I said, well, it’s a bit like inviting a hammerhead shark to dinner, and then when he eats all the guests you start complaining." British/American Dictionary: Morgan: I thought you’d need some beer because, frankly, Ricky, you’ve been a very naughty boy, haven’t you? Gervais: Okay, now it’s getting creepy. Morgan: You know what happens to naughty boys back in Britain? Gervais: Oh, this is getting weird. Larry King never did this. Morgan: You know what happens to naughty boys, Ricky. They get taken into darkened rooms and they get a thoroughly good spanking. Gervais: Okay, I’m leaving.

In an incredible stroke of luck, Morgan had booked Ricky Gervais as his fourth guest well in advance of the Golden Globes imbroglio. And a post-mortem of the much-debated night dominated the first half of the show, as a gleefully unrepentant Gervais stood by his remarks. "I like your confidence. Having interviewed lots of Hollywood stars before, I think your confidence that none of them would be offended is probably stretching it a bit. They can be delicate little flowers," Morgan said. "I’m sorry for them being offended, but I’m not sorry for anything I said because I’m not going to apologize for being true to myself. No one has the right not to be offended. Don’t forget, just because you’re offended, it doesn’t mean you’re in the right. A lot of people are offended by mixed marriage, it doesn’t mean they’re right," Gervais countered. After clearing up some Globes misconceptions—no, he didn’t clear his jokes with the HFPA, no, HFPA did not keep him offstage for the latter half of the show—the conversational topics shifted. In an unusually sober moment (a miracle considering he and Morgan shared a pint during the show!), Ricky spoke candidly about his recent weight loss—and those saucy gold lamé boxers. "I just felt like, where was it going to end? I didn’t want to blow it, actually. Life’s great, and I didn’t want to wake up with a heart attack."

Grade: A…an unexpected booking coup played a large role in the episode’s success, but Morgan more than held his own against the verbally dexterous Gervais.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Guest: George Clooney Ratings: TBD Ratings for Larry King Live, Friday, January 22, 2010: Pre-empted for Haiti telethonNotable guest quote: “Self-aggrandizing? I don’t need to be more famous, I’ve got all the attention I need, and I’m just trying to use that attention on other people. I don’t care what other people think about that. Most people are very supportive, and the ones who aren’t, then get out of your little room with your computer and go do something.” Notable Piers quote: “I actually think what you're doing is a remarkable thing. And I wish that more people with your huge celebrity status globally would do this kind of thing. And to the cynics that have a go at you, I think they should just shove it, frankly.” British/American Dictionary: Morgan: If I'm an American watching this—and obviously I'm not, I'm British—but if I was an American watching this and there'll be millions watching, I'm thinking to myself, Americans got real problems right now. It’s trillions of dollars in debt, 10 percent unemployment, and the people are having a pretty rough time. And if I'm being skeptical, I'm saying, “Come on, George, shouldn't charity begin at home here? Why should I care about the Sudan?”

One year after the Hope for Haiti telethon, George Clooney returned to cable to again champion a good cause, this time peace in the Sudan. And he has apparently taken the phrase “give until it hurts” to heart, revealing that he contracted malaria while visiting the troubled region. Morgan didn’t presume that the entirety of his viewing audience is intimately acquainted with the intricate politics of the Sudan, allowing Clooney to make his case a bit more accessible than it has been in other interviews. A good example came when Morgan asked, quite simply, why Americans should care about the Sudan when there are so many local problems to address. “The Sudan is an issue we've been involved in for many, many, many years,” Clooney said. “We spend over a billion dollars a year there now, basically in triage. So rather than doing that, why don't we spend no money and just our diplomatic will to be—and no lives—to be able to try to avoid those situation before it happens first of all?” As an added bonus, Morgan brought on George’s father, journalist Nick Clooney, who had a lot of fun ribbing his son. “I'm prouder all the time because he keeps growing all the time. I wish he'd stop, you know? I'd say he's so far distanced himself past all the rest of us that it's remarkable,” said the elder Clooney. “He hasn't plateaued yet. He's still getting there. And I'm saying all of this because I'm planning for him to be my retirement plan!”

Grade: A-…no one can accuse George Clooney of being underexposed in the media, so bringing his father into the mix was a savvy move that resulted in a more nuanced and candid hour than the standard celebrity interview.

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Shannon Donnelly is a video editor at The Daily Beast. Previously, she interned at Gawker and Overlook Press, edited the 2007 edition of Inside New York, and graduated from Columbia University. You can read more of her writing here.