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David Bauder, AP Television Writer
Published: 07 January 2011

PASADENA, California (AP) -- Piers Morgan says he's spoiling for a prime-time fight with CNN's rivals - and he'll throw the first punch with Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey, who is promoting her new OWN cable network, will be the first interview subject when "Piers Morgan Tonight" launches on Jan. 17. The former British tabloid editor said Thursday he interviewed Winfrey for that debut this week in California.

Morgan replaces Larry King, whose interview show ended after 25 years last month. He joins CNN at a low ebb, after a year in which Fox News Channel and MSNBC beat the original cable news network in the prime-time ratings.

To that, Morgan said, "I'd like to get to the position ... where the butt-kicking is reversed."

He said CNN needs to be more competitive with its rivals, "much more than we have been."

The brash Brit touted his talk show with plenty of tough talk of his own in a meeting with reporters Thursday, bragging that he made Simon Cowell cry during an interview and suggesting that his interview in Britain with Gordon Brown turned the tide of the election for prime minister in Brown's favor. He said he wants to be polarizing.

"He's really not this annoying," said his executive producer, Jonathan Wald, suggesting his star was in promo mode and not as combative during actual interviews.

In fact, Morgan said his typical interview technique is to try and get a laugh off the top, to seal a connection between him and the subject. He also promises to knock his subject on the heels with questions they never expected.

In Winfrey's case, that was when Morgan asked "how many times have you properly been in love?" He wouldn't reveal the answer.

Wald said that through Morgan's interviews, the show will be reaching for the "middle lane of American popular culture, the intersection of interesting and important."

Morgan said he hoped that viewers watch the interviews and "feel exhilarated, feel excited."

The extent to which the "America's Got Talent" panelist hopes to get people talking was revealed in the first 30 seconds of his news conference, where he continued a feud of unknown origin with Madonna, promising she'll be banned from his show.

"Lady Gaga is half her age and twice as good looking, twice as hot," he said. "Why would I bother with Madonna, anyway?"

The New York-based show will originate from London for a week this spring surrounding the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The former London media mogul said his experience there made him uniquely suited to covering the story.

Morgan would seem handicapped by having the low-rated "Parker-Spitzer" precede him on CNN's lineup. But Wald said that if they put on a good show, it will draw viewers regardless of what else is happening on CNN's schedule.

"One day you're the cock of the walk and the next you're a feather duster," Morgan said. "I sincerely hope it will be the former as we move on to CNN."


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