Piers Morgan’s departure gives CNN a golden opportunity to land a blockbuster host

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The New York Times is reporting Piers Morgan, the British talent judge-turned-CNN replacement for Larry King, has reportedly announced he will wind down his talk show in March.

Thank God!

Morgan’s problem was actually way more than just a failure to connect.  Having watched him a few times, Morgan appeared stiff, contemptuous of American culture, and having an overall lack of interest in anything that didn’t happen either outside Hollywood, New York, or London.  By his very appearance on a nightly basis, it was as though he lived in a bubble.

The question is now “who will replace Morgan?”

Should CNN Chief Jeffrey Zucker decide to find a successor to Morgan, he will need to go way further than just someone to mind the store.  Zucker will need to hit a Grand Slam to have any hope of bringing CNN back to par with Fox News and even MSNBC.  Here are a few potential hosts Zucker should consider in the event he decides to continue the current slot as a newsmagazine.

Katie Couric

The Upside – Couric has talk show experience and is able to think on her feet.  She brings in the coveted 25-54 female demographic, which is considered advertising gold.  She also tends to draw educated women, which makes her a direct threat to MSNBC and, should Zucker decide to require a more objective broadcast than Morgan was capable of delivering, Couric is capable of following orders.

The Downside – Couric is notoriously unpredictable in presentation.  Adding her may also require Zucker to consider making the slot a live-audience program, as opposed to a sit-down interview show.

Jay Leno

The  Upside – Leno has the sort of juice with the highly sought blue-collar white male demographic Fox News currently has a stranglehold on.  His ability to appeal to an older, more mature, working class audience makes him a sure winner, and he has proven to be able to land big-name guests and put on a serious face as necessary.

The Downside – With no journalism credentials, Leno will have to rely on his staff for interview points.   Even more to the point is that Zucker would have to completely retool the slot to allow Leno to work within his wheelhouse of comedy, which could put off more news-oriented CNN viewers.

Randi Rhodes

The Upside – Rhodes, the one-time standard bearer for Air America Radio, has the sort of gritty, in-your-face approach that CNN has been lacking for years.   Just as important, Rhodes connections within the Democratic Party could draw A-list politicians, which draws exactly the sort of viewers CNN prefers to cater to.  Her experience in the New York and Miami markets gives her the media savvy needed to survive in the big leagues.

The Downside – The chances of moderate and conservative politicians and guests appearing on a show featuring Rhodes without major ground rules in place are zero to none.  She has proven, on more than one occasion, to be just abrasive enough to alienate viewers.  Finally, Rhodes is likely to be quite resistant to any efforts by Zucker to tone down her overt liberal views.

Art Bell

The Upside – Having built his own radio program from the ground up, Bell has a proven knowledge of the broadcasting and entertainment business.  He also has a willingness to touch on the fringe subjects which King eschewed and Morgan bristled at.  Bell also could draw guests who would bring a lot of non-traditional viewers to the network.

The Downside – Bell’s reputation for attracting the lunatic fringe and conspiracy theorists runs directly counter to CNN’s overall philosophy, assuming it still has one.  Also, Bell is, unfortunately, not exactly a camera-oriented sort of person.  Add to that the fact Bell would undoubtedly insist on total control of the content and nature of the program, something Zucker will likely never agree to.

Anderson Cooper

The Upside – He’s a CNN anchor with juice, and has proven, time and again, to be reputable and able to connect with viewers. He’s also a familiar with the sort of newsmagazine Zucker would likely put into place in that slot.

The Downside – Strangely, it would not be his homosexuality.  That would actually be a drawing point.  Instead, Cooper’s single downside is his greatest asset in the news world – a single minded focus on the news.  Any talk show host would have to be attack multiple subjects simultaneously – Cooper’s wheelhouse is news interviews, not casual chatter. 

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