Will Larry King end up playing Jay Leno to Piers Morgan’s Conan O’Brien?
The 25-year veteran of CNN retired four years ago. For the last three years, former British tabloid editor Morgan had been filling King’s extra-large suspenders. This weekend it was leaked that CNN would cancel the show. King said he’d consider coming back, if asked.
The New York Times suggested Morgan’s British accent made it hard for him to connect with an American audience. Given the success of Simon Cowell, Downton Abbey and One Direction stateside, that judgment seems insane. Morgan’s show failed because he made a mess of it. He was a minimally competent interviewer, at best. He cultivated small and tedious feuds with fellow celebrities.
And of course he famously turned his program into a one-man crusade for gun control. Morgan heckled his own American guests for their support of Second Amendment rights. Morgan came across as an arrogant and bigoted Brit, dropped in to lectures us Yanks on how we ought to put down those assault rifles real slowly-like and drink tea with our pinkie fingers extended.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans responded by extending another finger instead. Critics petitioned the White House via the “We the People” website to have him deported. It gained enough cyber signatures that the Obama administration issued an official response.
The White House reminded Americans that the Constitution guarantees both the right to bear arms and the right to say dumb things on television. Morgan meant to provoke us from his cable soapbox. For a time, he pulled it off, but then his ratings went into freefall.
One friend greeted news that Morgan’s show was being cancelled by writing that he had been “down most of the day” until he heard. The cancellation boosted his “general appraisal of human nature.” “Piers,” he wrote, “don’t let the Statue of Liberty torch your ass on the way out.”
Morgan bet that the controversy he could stir up with his anti-gun crusade would eventually attract a large enough audience to give his show real ratings heft. He lost that wager spectacularly. He will continue on at CNN in a much reduced capacity, likely until his contract expires. Then maybe he’ll pop back to Britain.
While the troubled cable network was hashing all this out, Larry King raised his voice. He admitted in January to the Huffington Post Live that he didn’t much care for Morgan’s show. It was too much about Morgan and his preoccupations and politics, not funny enough, not enough about the guests.
King playfully suggested CNN might be better off turfing all the scheduled programming and replacing it with episodes of SpongeBob Square Pants instead. CNN could play SpongeBob until there was a breaking news story, he explained, and then interrupt the cartoon to give us the latest war, verdict or car chase.
CNN is unlikely to take that wacky advice. But the network has been returning to some of its old mainstays of late. Last year, it relaunched Crossfire after cancelling it in 2005. It’s not a great stretch to see CNN bringing back King as well.
If so, expect King to work his new SpongeBob obsession into the first show.