Note to presenters who just don’t get it!

Piers Morgan tries to look on the bright side after CNN chat show axed
Observers say Morgan, who succeeded Larry King, paid price for his style, his views on gun control

Piers Morgan tries to look on the bright side after CNN chat show axed

Piers Morgan’s viewing figures for his primetime CNN show had dropped below 300,000. Photograph: EPA

He is fond of telling people: “One day you’re the cock of the walk, the next you’re the feather duster.” Now Piers Morgan is about to enter another feather duster phase of his career after his primetime US chatshow was axed by CNN.

The former editor of the Daily Mirror, who alienated some of his US audience with his outspoken calls for gun control, was dropped by the news network after his ratings fell as low as 270,000 viewers.

Morgan appeared sanguine about the decision as his exit became public, taking to Twitter to post a link to Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Hired by a previous regime at CNN, Morgan, 48, was a surprise choice when he was anointed in late 2010 to succeed legendary US interviewer Larry King, who presented the slot for a quarter of a century.

Morgan had previously been known to US TV viewers for appearances on Americas’s Got Talent and the celebrity version of The Apprentice, both on NBC, but as a news interviewer he was an unknown.

Simon Marks, the founder of Washington-based news agency Feature Story News, who previously ran the News Hour programme on US public service network PBS, said: “To be fair to Piers Morgan, CNN should never have hired him for this job, everyone knew it from day one.”

Marks said the show had gone from being “presented by one of the most iconic figures in American TV and radio” to being presented by someone unknown to many in the US.

Marks added: “He didn’t reinvent himself for the purposes of American TV, he brought the same kind of argument and conversation you would hear in a London wine bar; it just doesn’t work like that.”

Far from winning over sceptical Americans, Morgan alienated viewers with his calls for stringent gun controls following the December 2012 killings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

Hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition calling for Morgan to be deported over the issue, with one of its organisers, Alex Jones, warning him after a shouting match on his show: “Don’t try what your ancestors did before.”

Morgan admitted that ratings for his show had “taken a bath”, falling below 300,000 from an early high of 2 million.

“I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarising, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” he told the New York Times at the weekend.

Robin Lustig, the former presenter of Radio 4’s The World Tonight who has broadcast extensively in the US, from where he anchored three presidential elections for the World Service, said: “I suspect most people in America don’t take kindly to foreigners telling them what’s wrong with them. I’m not sure he was the most empathetic of TV hosts, and my suspicion is he gave people the impression he didn’t much like America. That was probably the biggest mistake. Alistair Cooke and David Frost, they both made it clear they loved the country. They even began to sound half-American.”

It is 10 years since Morgan was sacked by the Mirror for running fake pictures of British soldiers “abusing” Iraqi prisoners, and he has shown a capacity for bouncing back. Married to Daily Telegraph columnist Celia Walden, he still has his ITV chatshow, Life Stories, with the date of the final edition of Piers Morgan Live is yet to be decided. His contract with CNN runs out in September.

Morgan became the News of the World’s editor aged just 29, before becoming Daily Mirror editor in 1996. He was questioned in November last year under caution by detectives investigating phone hacking. A CNN spokeswoman said the interview by police was not a factor in his dismissal. Morgan has always denied any involvement in phone hacking.

Morgan can console himself that, While many British news executives have made it big behind the scenes – former BBC director general Mark Thompson at the New York Times, former ITV News chief Deborah Turness at NBC – , few “Brits abroad” have succeeded as presenters of US television news shows.

“The problem for British journalists working in America is that American journalists take themselves very seriously, to the point of pomposity,” said Stephen Claypole, a former senior BBC News and TV news agency executive who is now chairman of consultancy, DMA Media.

“They are not at all knockabout in the way they do things. [Morgan] has always been a pretty bumptious character. That was part of his success at a very young age.”

Morgan’s troubles also reflected wider issues at CNN, which blazed a trail when it was founded by Ted Turner in 1980 but has found itself trailing in the ratings and struggled to establish an identity between its rivals – the rightwing Fox News and the liberal-leaning MSNBC.

Plus there were barriers Morgan could do little about. The New York Times writer David Carr wrote: “Old hands in the television news business suggest that there are two things a presenter cannot have: an accent or a beard.”

Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism at Cardiff University and a former director of the BBC World Service, said: “It’s revealing that for all this talk about global media and the rest of it, it’s his accent that was picked up as opposed to whether his interviews were any good.

“For middle America, it is a deeply cultural thing: these things do matter.”

For the moment it is his longstanding rival, Jeremy Clarkson, who has the upper hand. “I’m feeling strangely contented this morning,” tweeted the Top Gear presenteron Monday. “I wonder if something wonderful has happened somewhere … I understand that Nigerian TV is looking for a new chatshow host. Anyone got any suggestions?”

Morgan himself claimed to have noticed some schadenfreude, tweeting later: “Amusing @BBCNews coverage of my CNN show ending just now. Thought the reporter was actually going to burst out laughing with glee.”