From the very start it seemed a brave if not entirely rash move by CNN when three years ago it hired a British news man known only to Americans for a tabloid talent show to take the primetime spot on its network that for more than a generation had been occupied by the iconic but retiring Larry King. Now it is admitting it was an error.
Piers Morgan, whose career also spanned his editorship of The Mirror newspaper in Britain, will soon be no longer the nighttime face at CNN, or least not in the chair vacated by Mr King. He and the network confirmed to the New York Times what many in the industry thought had been a long time coming - he will be leaving the show soon, perhaps as soon as next month.
And truth is all too evident that the dwindling crew of Americans who were still watching the programme will not much mourn his departure. Or not many among them. He will be remembered by his critics notably for his repeated excoriations of American’s gun-owning culture that possibly played well with the liberal audiences of the east and west coasts but infuriated the belly of what should have been his audience in Middle America.
That he stumbled is not something he himself apparently feels the need to disguise. “It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” he told David Carr, the media columnist for the Times. He portrayed the decision by him and his bosses at CNN to terminate his 9pm gig has having been calm and mutual.
He is also suggesting that he may retained at CNN and given new roles. His existing contract for the programme he is relinquishing does not run out until September. In his eye that might mean more occasional appearances either when important world news is breaking or interviewing celebrities whose views matter or garner real interest.
Exactly how CNN president Jeffrey Zucker plans to rest the table is not clear. If the 9pm hour is to remain interview-based, there is no word if they have someone in the wings to replace Morgan. Of one thing you can almost be certain, however – that it will not be anyone from the British Isles however compelling they might be.
Mr Morgan is aware of how his anti-gun lectures – from a foreigner, no less - rubbed many up the wrong way and won’t be easily forgotten. “Look, I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarizing, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” he said. “That’s run its course and Jeff and I have been talking for some time about different ways of using me.”
Mr Morgan, 48, had privately telling friends for some time that while he had periods when he had been energised doing the show, called Piers Morgan Live, but usually only during times of gripping and breaking news that his interviews were tapping into. During long periods when not much was happening on the American news waterfront, he felt he was often treading water with sub-par guests who bored him and presumably the viewers also.
The travails of Mr Morgan had become more than just a problem for him, however. It was also a rotten fruit at the centre of CNN’s evening spread of primetime programming. His ratings had for many months been an embarrassment to himself and executives and a lead weight on the network as a whole. They regularly trailed far behind the Fox News Channel, owned by Rupert Murdoch, and the other main rival MSNBC.
It’s proving a tricky winter for Mr Morgan. Earlier this month he admitted that in December he had willingly submitted to questioning by police in London in relation to the ongoing phone hacking investigation connected to his time at the Mirror, where he was editor-in-chief from 1995 to 2004.