CNN Closing In on Piers Morgan For 9 PM Slot

By Alex Weprin 

According to multiple reports, CNN is close to hiring “America’s Got Talent” judge Piers Morgan to replace Larry King at 9 p.m.

The news is not totally unexpected. Rumors of Morgan jumping to CNN were first reported in mid-June by the New York Post and a number of British tabloids.

It was also in mid-June that TVNewser took a look at what else Morgan has done on television, with a particular focus on his UK “chat show” “Life Stories,” and the “Crossfire”-esque debate program “Morgan & Platell.”

Earlier this month, “American Idol” judge and “America’s Got Talent” executive producer Simon Cowell said that he helped “broker a deal” to land Morgan the 9 p.m. slot. CNN shot back by saying that they had not offered Morgan a job and “were not in negotiations with him,” a point CNN U.S. President Jon Klein echoed in an email to Broadcasting & Cable.

Of course, as the New York Times writes, it was all a bit of semantics:

CNN had made its interest in Mr. Morgan clear, both to him and to NBC. In the usual course of contractual niceties in the entertainment industry, Mr. Morgan and his representative could listen to what CNN had to say, but had to steer clear of anything that might constitute a formal negotiation.

The main action has not directly involved CNN. It is taking place quietly between executives from NBC Universal and Turner Broadcasting, a unit of Time Warner. These talks centered on whether Turner had something to offer NBC Universal.

Neither side was prepared on Tuesday to announce what, if anything, Turner might have given in return. But whatever NBC gained, the decision seemed to indicate that NBC’s opinion of Mr. Morgan’s prospects as an interview host did not match CNN’s. If he does take the job, Mr. Morgan would be a chief rival to MSNBC, the news channel owned by NBC.

So CNN has not negotiated with Morgan, but they did have informal “discussions.” Of course, the idea that Morgan and his representation would sit politely and only listen to what CNN had to say is ridiculous, but legally necessary for the network to say publicly. In light of the very specific reports coming out of the UK in June, which nailed the November time-frame for him starting on CNN and threw around specific dollar figures, it is safe to say that Morgan’s people, who may have included Cowell, had substantive talks with Turner Broadcasting about Morgan, even if technically they were not supposed to.

A good comparison is MSNBC host David Shuster. Shuster was (and still is) under contract at NBC Universal. That did not stop him from talking to CNN, and taping a test show for them. These talks would not constitute “negotiations,” but they still happened, and Shuster ended up paying the price by being pulled off the air.

So why did NBC punish Shuster and let Morgan go? Money.

According to the Times Turner Broadcasting gave NBCU concessions as part of the deal. What the agreement is remains unknown, but the most likely concessions involve NBCU-produced programming that Turner has acquired the off-network rights to, such as “The Office” and “Law & Order.”

Update: NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker was MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” earlier, and host Joe Scarborough asked him about Morgan:

“Piers will continue on “America’s Got Talent” for the next three years. Having said that, I can also tell you that he has approached us about asking us to do another job as well,” Zucker said. “Those conversations are continuing, and I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.”

Video of Zucker’a appearance is below, with the Morgan question asked around 3:30.

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