He sits alone at a huge glossy desk like a James Bond baddie in his lair. The viewer expects Daniel Craig to burst in and demand the nuclear codes at gunpoint. This is Piers Morgan in Uncensored, his new flagship show for Talk TV which launched last Monday.
The week began with a storm of bad publicity about ‘the most explosive interview of the year.’ Morgan was accused of doctoring a trailer to make it appear that Donald Trump had flounced out in the middle of their tete-a-tete. But the unedited footage showed the prickly ex-president muttering, ‘turn the camera off’, as he left the studio. A spot of sneaky editing turned this minor tremor into a massive earthquake. An excellent result for Morgan as it guaranteed a big audience for his debut show.
The encounter itself was a let-down because Trump had nothing new to say. He told us that he admires the Queen. ‘She’s never made a mistake.’ He added that his mother who was born in Scotland – did you know that? – admired the Queen as well. He fulminated, as usual, against Meghan and Harry, and he called the duke ‘an embarrassment… being led around by his nose’. He went further and hinted that the couple will end up in the divorce courts. At which point he added a beautiful new specimen to his anthology of exaggeration. ‘I’ve been a very good predicter,’ said Trump. ‘I predicted almost everything.’
Morgan overlooked that howler because he was too busy trying to get Trump to announce his intention to run in 2024. But his interviewee was guarded and ambiguous.
‘A lot of people are going to be very happy,’ said Trump. ‘I love this country. And our country is going to hell.’
Not quite a declaration.
The great strength of Uncensored is Morgan’s versatility. He’s able to handle virtually any kind of TV encounter. He can do a heavyweight political interview. He a can do a woe-is-me chinwag with a blubbing celeb. He can scoop the world with a headline-grabbing splash from a sporting hero. And he can do a family friendly end-piece with a cuddly pet. One of the strangest sights of the week was Morgan crossing the studio in his beautifully tailored suit and chatting to three llamas in a pen. Their breeder claimed that the fluffy little beasts make excellent companions for a country ramble. But an alpha-male like Morgan wasn’t interested in relaxation. He wanted to know if stroking llamas ‘can encourage leadership skills?’ It can, apparently. Another scoop for Morgan.
It’s obvious that he called in a lot of favours to attract big names to his show. Apart from Trump he talked to Sharon Osbourne, Caitlyn Jenner, Tucker Carlson and the boxing champion Tyson Fury who announced, in a heavily stage-managed splash, that he was retiring from the sport.
Morgan appears to assume that Uncensored is an event of international significance. He kept asking each new guest about the previous guests as if his TV studio had become the epicentre of world affairs. He got Sharon Osbourne to comment on Trump’s prospects in 2024. He asked Tyson Fury about Sharon Osbourne and about Trump. And he persuaded Fury to use his personal knowledge of the ex-president to make a prediction. Fury said that Trump will not only stand in 2024 but will triumph. This delighted Morgan.
‘You’re a deep thinker, you’re highly intelligent’, he gushed to Fury, ‘I think you’re one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever interviewed.’
Morgan held a two-man summit with Tucker Carlson, ‘the Fox News firebrand’, and he asked him to comment on what Trump had said about Harry and Meghan. Then they turned to US politics and Carlson delivered one of the week’s more subtle pieces of analysis. Trump, he said, has a great desire to influence politics but he can easily do that from his golf course. ‘I don’t think he wants to be president again,’ said Carlson.
To British viewers Morgan’s show lacks something crucial. Pressure and conflict. He’s far too safe behind his big shiny desk, and he spends too much time massaging large egos. It would more fun to watch a bust-up between Morgan and his favourite clowns, enemies and nutters.
What happened to the eco-saboteurs and the trans activists who get his goat? Where are the showboating Marxist revolutionaries with beautiful fingernails? Why can’t he take on Ash ‘I’m literally a communist’ Sarkar or the ‘intersectional feminist’, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu? And it would be great to see Morgan grilling Sir Keir Starmer and asking him to explain how Labour can attract female voters when the word ‘woman’ gives them the jitters.
But none of these figures are likely to get an invitation. They aren’t A-listers and their names mean nothing in the United States. His mission, clearly, is to create a show in London that will attract viewers across north America. Few broadcasters could attempt such a feat but Morgan is a worldwide celeb with a huge list of contacts. If anyone can do it, he can.
Yet his appetite for invective and for engaging in unnecessary feuds will work against him. The lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard produced this weird snarl of anger. ‘The world’s most gruesome twosome,’ he said. ‘They make me vomit.’ The only victim of that insult is Morgan himself who automatically lost them both as potential guests. A smarter journalist would have picked a side (probably Depp’s) and created an opportunity to land an interview with at least one half of the Punch-and-Judy show.
Morgan has a huge mountain to climb. He hopes that Uncensored will reset the news agenda every 24 hours. And hats off to him, he managed that last weekend with his mischievous Trump trailer. At the same time, his temperament is likely to cause him trouble. He’s the Basil Fawlty of global journalism. If he’s not greasing up to them he’s spitting with rage at their vices.