Marketing's key for new show, he sez

The success of CNN’s new “Piers Morgan Tonight” could hinge on marketing, the host said Thursday.

Unlike “Larry King Live,” which was a live interview program by its very name, Morgan’s interview show (which moves into the King timeslot on Jan. 17) will consist largely of pre-taped interviews.

What the show might lack in immediacy will be made up in promotability, Morgan told reporters during CNN’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.

“CNN’s problem was not Larry, but that it’s obsessed with live interviews,” he said. “It’s hard to promote live interviews.”

Morgan said he believed the show will benefit from the ability to promote clips and the actual sitdowns in the days leading up to the show. “That’s how we’ll get bigger ratings,” he said.

Morgan has already taped his first show, a sitdown with new cable mogul Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey has made no shortage of media appearances as her Oprah Winfrey Network launches — she even made her own stop at TCA on Thursday.

But Morgan said he’s convinced that Winfrey’s media tour (which also included a highly publicized sitdown with Barbara Walters) doesn’t diminish his first “get.” “We had a connection,” he said. “She’s one of the two or three most brilliant gets in the world. The style of that encounter I had with Oprah is brilliant.”

Among the questions Morgan believed would give viewers new insight into the Queen of All Media: “How many times have you been properly in love, where your heart aches and breaks?”

Morgan said he wooed Winfrey’s gal pal Gayle King for six weeks via email; Winfrey said she agreed to the on-air chat at King’s insistence.

Although it will be mostly taped (which will also help accommodate Morgan’s busy schedule, which includes NBC’s “America’s Got Talent”), Morgan said the new show will go live when breaking news warrants.

“Piers Morgan Tonight” will be shot most of the year in New York, except while he’s taping “Got Talent,” when he’ll tape in Los Angeles.

As for the troubled state of CNN in primetime, Morgan laughed off the notion that he’s now the network’s Great Primetime Hope.

“Our butts are being kicked by Fox News and MSNBC in primetime, it’s a fact,” he said. “I would like the butt kicking to be reversed a bit.”

In the case of “Piers Morgan Tonight,” that means marketing the host as a loud, brash, opinionated interviewer.

“There is an appetite out there for compelling one-hour interviews with compelling people,” he said. “I believe it will work here. You don’t have to be partisan to be opinionated. Some of the great CNN journalism has been opinionated without being partisan, such as Anderson Cooper in Katrina or Haiti.”

With “more beasts in the jungle,” you’ve got to make more noise, added Morgan. “CNN has been drowned out by the noise of its rivals over the last two years,” Morgan said. “It needs more energy and dynamism in the way its programming is marketed and sold.”

Exec producer Jonathan Wald, who let Morgan do most of the talking, simply added that “the best man got the job” when asked a cheeky question about why a Brit landed the coveted Larry King slot.

Morgan made no bones about his cocky persona.

“I like being polarizing, it’s more fun,” he added. “The idea of being some saintly figure in modern TV must be unbearable. TV should be provocative and opinionated.”

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