Piers Morgan, who joined CNN almost two years ago, has some ideas for how the network can pull itself out of the cable news ratings basement. “We should collectively as a network be more aggressive, more provocative, more debate-y,” he says. Averaging 576,000 viewers, with 175,000 in the 25-to-54 demo for the month of October, Morgan places third behind his 9 p.m. competitors Sean Hannity (Fox News) and Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) but has the most-watched show on the network, beating Anderson Cooper’s 8 p.m. program. Morgan recently has moved away from the single-interview format that he envisioned when his show launched and toward multiple topics and guests with more live shows. “It’ll be crackly, provocative, opinionated,” On Monday, Oct. 30, when Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the East Coast, Piers Morgan Tonight was the top-rated cable news program in the demo, pulling in 1 million viewers 24-54 with 2.4 million overall.
The Hollywood Reporter: What does CNN need to do to be competitive again?
Piers Morgan: There has been a slight timidity internally in not wanting to be provocative or opinionated on air because you could stray into being partisan. If the anchor has taken a position on gun control or abortion, somehow you’re losing that neutrality. I don’t agree. I have become increasingly vocal on my show about these very issues, totally unafraid to say what I think. It’s actually better television if a host says: “You know what I think about abortion? I think it should be down to the women.” What I won’t say is if I’m going to vote for Obama or Romney. The beauty for me is [as a Brit], I can’t.
THR: Do you think Jeff Zucker would make a good leader for CNN?
Morgan: I love Jeff Zucker. I wouldn’t be here without him. He was the boss at NBC Universal. I was under a contract [as host of America’s Got Talent]; everybody had said to him, "Don’t let him go," and, "Why do we want to share our talent with CNN?" And he said: “I get it. This is your dream job, and I’m going to let you do it.” He’s a very capable executive. But I think there are lots of people who could do that job very capably, and it won’t be my decision. I can say with total honesty I have no idea who is going to get the job.
THR: What was your best interview?
Morgan: Probably the Robert Blake interview. I actually have never seen the security guys come onto the studio floor as they did for that. I thought something was going to happen. It was so crazy and yet such compelling television. Then I would say [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad was a very significant one for us because we got the world-exclusive interview when he came here [in September] for the United Nations, and that’s a big deal. And I think the general verdict was I gave him a pretty hard time and got some good stuff out of him and that it was a good bit of combat.
THR: So are you moving away from celebrities hawking something and toward newsmakers?
Morgan: I would not buy stock in the C-list celebrity guests. I think we're interested in big stars or intelligent people, preferably both. I met Gen. David Petraeus, who I'm a huge fan of, at the Vanity Fair White House Correspondents’ Dinner party. And he said: “I really like your show, but I just don't like all the C-list celebrities. Why do you bother with them?” And I didn't really have a good answer. What we should be doing is filling that space with intelligent debate about issues and stories of the day and then saving the celebrity time for people who matter, who are proper stars and have something to say.