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Review: 'Piers Morgan Tonight' with Oprah

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  January 17, 2011 10:11 PM

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Piers Morgan took over CNN’s Larry King slot tonight and was by turns charming, vain, well-informed, and fawning -- but mostly just fawning. During the hour with his first guest, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan heaped endless praise on her, telling “the American queen” that she’d have been a “fantastic mother” and a great therapist, all while laughing a little too eagerly at her jokes.

And Oprah met his praise with her own, repeating “You’re good” whenever he asked her non-fluffy questions that weren‘t designed to let her promote her new OWN network -- the reason she was on the show in the first place. At the end of the premiere of “Piers Morgan Tonight,” the famously self-promotional host asked Oprah how he’d done. “You have been surprising,” Oprah said, “and that’s a good thing.”

Known for asking tough questions and being the cranky “America’s Got Talent” judge, Morgan was indeed surprising -- surprisingly soft. He failed to press Oprah hard on any of her more touchy-feely answers. And yet his Barbara Walters-esque method worked, to some extent, since Oprah is not one to bend to pressure. He inspired her to talk with relative candor about her life’s mission of self-realization, her suicidal thoughts when she was pregnant and then lost her baby at 14, her unconventional relationship with Stedman Graham, her romantic heartbreaks, and her commitment to “be here, be now.” When he asked her to describe her brand, she said, “I’m the love brand.”

Rather than introducing himself to his CNN audience with fists clenched, Morgan chose to prove he could be a gentleman and a little vulnerable and playful, too. Realizing that he and Oprah were competing to have Michael Vick as a guest, he bet her 100 pounds on who would get Vick first -- which she upped to 200.

Tuesday night, Morgan will probably reveal a different side as he spends the hour with Howard Stern and the show moves from tonight’s living room to Morgan’s regular stage set. Then he will have a better chance to show us whether or not “Piers Morgan Tonight” will be more than just another one of TV’s blah-blah-blah talk shows.

Did you watch? Thoughts?

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