Piers Morgan's 9 p.m. show on CNN is ending, the host told the New York Times' David Carr. Morgan is one of the few remaining high-profile hires from Jonathan Klein's era at the cable network, which featured everything from a prime-time talk series hosted by recently resigned and disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer to an 8 o'clock program hosted by Campbell Brown (another show that didn't hit).
Morgan was in the unique position of having almost nowhere to go but up. He was hired to replace Larry King, and King's ratings bottomed out at around 63,000 viewers in the core news demo in the fall of 2010, just before he passed the torch to Morgan. Piers Morgan Live managed to fall even further last week, drawing just 50,000 adults 25-54 on Feb. 18. That same night, Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show logged 227,000 members of the demo while Megyn Kelly's Fox News Channel telecast drew 354,000 adults 25-54. "Lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” Morgan told Carr.
A few factors may have helped to usher Morgan into the tub. First, beyond a stint as a judge on NBC's reality competition show America's Got Talent, Morgan is much better known in the U.K., where his brash persona and Twitter-based Arsenal hooliganism inspire more passionate reaction. In the colonies, he's another British newsguy a lot like Martin Bashir, and his long segments on gun rights have frequently seemed like monologues that would be more at home on MSNBC than CNN (now significantly less political after a year of new CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker's leadership).
It also doesn't help that Morgan's journalistic reputation was seriously tarnished by a stint at the Daily Mirror when, while the British military was in Iraq, he published a faked photo of soldiers appearing to abuse a prisoner. Morgan refused to apologize, was dismissed in 2004 and continued to refuse to apologize.
Carr wrote that Morgan's show is likely to end "sometime in March," or six months before his contract was set to expire. What will take its place is a mystery, but Zucker has been on a hiring spree of late and the network has benefited from infusions of fresh talent, so expect a new face. There have been rumors around Bill Weir, hired from ABC News to the network in October amid enough fanfare that the network issued a statement saying that "Bill Weir was not brought to CNN to replace Piers Morgan," which, we feel the need to point out, absolutely does not say that Weir will not end up replacing Morgan.
Another candidate for the position: Jay Leno, whom Zucker has often said he likes and whose long stint at the Tonight Show recently came to a close. 9 p.m. is a prime spot, and Zucker is likely to look for a big-ticket hire—CNNers have told Adweek that for the moment, "Money is no object."
Under Jim Walton, there were more rules and regs around who could report a story, how much they could do and what kind of crew they'd need. Today, said one newsman, "If we hear in the morning meeting that he wants something covered, we go cover it." That same philosophy seems to be in place when it comes to acquiring talent.