Piers Morgan Tonight: What Did America Think?

“They tell me Piers Morgan is a great interviewer,” murmured Oprah Winfrey when the camera just happened to be upon her as she settled into her chair last night. “Let’s see how good he is.”

Piers Morgan Tonight kicked-off yesterday evening and Larry King’s replacement as CNN’s leading interviewer couldn’t have asked for a bigger guest to get his American show rolling. After his appearances on America’s Got Talent and Celebrity Apprentice, Morgan is not a completely unknown quantity to the American public, but his appointment still comes out of left field. At the very end of the premiere episode, Morgan turned to his first interviewee and asked “How have I done?” “You have been surprising,” was her carefully chosen answer. “Surprisingly bad?” Morgan asked with a nervous chuckle. “No just surprising,” Winfrey reiterated.

“Actually, there was little surprising about Morgan debut interview as CNN’s successor to Larry King,” Said Nellei Andreeva of Deadline Hollywood. “After months of hyping his provocative style, Morgan came across as a capable interviewer but spent the hour worshiping at the church of Oprah, calling her queen/American royalty, the most powerful woman in America, world’s most famous interviewer, etc and throwing mostly softball questions at her.”

The critic then went on to explain that Morgan was none-too-happy about the delay between the recording of his inaugural interview and transmission, a situation which meant much of the material was old-hat. “..Whole segments from Morgan’s interview, including the first 10 minutes, were exact replicas of Winfrey’s TCA session, with Winfrey repeating some of her answers almost verbatim,” added Andreeva.

Despite this, Morgan’s debut was well-received this side of the pond, and Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter was one of the American critics who warmed to the former tabloid editor. “His presence in front of the nation’s critics was a lesson in audacity and bluntness. And though that might turn people off – it certainly did that day – there’s an admirable quality to such a boldly self-assured person. It’s not every day you meet someone so unrepentantly in love with themselves.”

Caryn James at IndieWire, was also positive about CNN’s new boy, but is still reserving judgement. “After rivers of annoying self-promotion, Piers Morgan Tonight finally arrived on CNN to replace Larry King, and while there’s not a lot you can learn from one episode – especially when the guest is the thoroughly atypical Oprah Winfrey — here’s what I do know. Piers was much less smarmy than his endless braggadocio had led me to expect…. If I were an optimist, I’d say the real Piers turned out to be better than the pre-series self-promoter; since I’m not an optimist, let’s see.”

Douglas J Rowe of TV Guide was less complimentary however.. “Despite what he promised, Morgan displayed more toadying than anything else with Winfrey. And he got no newsbreaking quotes from her — unlike Barbara Walters just a few weeks ago. The guest list for the rest of this week will be shock jock Howard Stern, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais and Oscar winner George Clooney — a lineup some of our users see as hackneyed and tiresome.”

Matthew Gilbert at Boston.com. also spoke about the host’s reluctance to ask the difficult questions (although what Morgan would have gained from savaging the most popular woman in America on his first day is unclear). “Piers Morgan took over CNN’s Larry King slot tonight and was by turns charming, vain, well-informed, and fawning — but mostly just fawning. During the hour with his first guest, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan heaped endless praise on her, telling “the American queenâ€? that she’d have been a “fantastic motherâ€? and a great therapist, all while laughing a little too eagerly at her jokes.