Forgive Variety and other news outlets for referring to Piers Morgan assuming Larry King’s “throne.” It’s an easy metaphor and obvious pun, especially given King’s name.

The truth, though, is that for several years King has been closer to court jester than monarch, and CNN has too many times looked more like a clown college (see Sanchez, Rick) than a global news operation.

If CNN didn’t exist, to quote an old line, Fox News Channel would have had to invent them.

Piersmorgan Morgan might be able to breathe some new life into the primetime lineup, which will also add “Parker Spitzer” — the title of the new show hosted by Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker — in October. But the truth is the British host inherits a “throne” that has been seriously devalued over the last few years.

CNN does have some solid talent in its ranks, but the channel has fumbled around for a sense of direction while Fox and to a lesser extent MSNBC have zeroed in on formulas that work for them. And while the channel is still profitable and possesses a strong international brand, at times that almost feels more in spite of its management maneuvering than because of it.

Even the King to Morgan baton pass was mishandled, making today’s official release one of the most anticlimactic in memory.

The real shame of it is that there’s a need for a smart, center-of-the-road news channel that invests in serious reporting and intelligent talk. That’s what CNN still pays lip service to being, but it’s a long, long way from getting there.