Morgan to take over King’s throne

Brit journalist tapped by CNN for talkshow gig

Months after word first surfaced that CNN was looking to hire “America’s Got Talent” judge Piers Morgan to headline a new yakker, the news cabler finally admitted to such a deal Wednesday.

One of the worst-kept secrets in TV – the other being Fox’s new “American Idol” judges – has come true: Morgan will indeed replace Larry King’s 9 p.m. slot on CNN starting in January. King previously announced plans to step down from his long-running show by the end of this year.

Morgan’s as-yet-unnamed interview program has been the subject a series of items in gossip pages for months now, with “Got Talent” exec producer Simon Cowell even telling London tabloids that he had a hand in making the deal work. Morgan will reportedly earn upwards of $5 million a year for the next three years in the job.

Morgan recently signed a three-year extension to remain a judge on “America’s Got Talent.” The new arrangement with the Peacock gave Morgan the flexibility to host a show for CNN – but “Got Talent” remains in first position, which means the cable news yakker will have to be worked around his “Got Talent” schedule.

“Piers has made his name posing tough questions to public figures, holding them accountable for their words and deeds,” said CNN US prexy Jonathan Klein. “He is able to look at all aspects of the news with style and humor with an occasional good laugh in the process.”

Morgan is the second unorthodox choice for the net in the last few months – former N.Y. gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned his gubernatorial post after a prostitution scandal, was tapped to co-host debate show “Parker/Spitzer” with journo Kathleen Parker, replacing Campbell Brown in the net’s 8 p.m. slot.

In a statement, Morgan said he admired the man he’ll be replacing.

“I have watched Larry King Live for much of the last 25 years, and dreamed of one day filling the legendary suspenders of the man I consider to be the greatest TV interviewer of them all,” Morgan said. “To now have the chance to work with Larry and Anderson (Cooper), and to try and continue the outstanding journalistic legacy created by them, and so many others at CNN, is both a great honor, and a great challenge.”

Morgan also made his journalistic name in less auspicious ways, notably by publishing faked photos of U.K. soldiers abusing an Iraqi prisoner in U.K. tab “The Daily Mirror,” for which he was fired. Still, Morgan has other credentials: the “Got Talent” judge has hosted BBC interview skeins “You Can’t Fire Me I’m Famous” and “Tabloid Tales,” as well as ITV’s “Piers Morgan’s Life Stories,” which is believed to have originally caught the eye of CNN execs and led to the gig.

Deal comes just months after Klein hinted to both Broadcasting & Cable and online journal Mediaite that the cabler had “never negotiated with Piers,” and that “it’s not worth talking about.”

CNN needs both Morgan’s show and “Parker/Spitzer” to hit – the net’s ratings have been on a steady downward slope and its primetime hours regularly rank behind MSNBC in the key news demo, and sometimes behind its own sister net, Headline News.