The ratings are in, and Piers Morgan is dead last. Piers Morgan Tonight is struggling to pick up prime-time viewers as it reaches the end of its second year on-air. Here are the stats reported on Wednesday, Jan 16:
FOXNEWS O'REILLY 3,356,000
The silver lining is Morgan hasn’t had an entirely horrific year: as the Guardian notes, he averaged 722,000 viewers a week, and he took over Larry King’s slot after declining ratings made King a “lame duck.”
King left after an average viewership of 655,000 in his final year, with those ratings deemed “unacceptably low” by the network. In 2012, Morgan also did approximately 28% better than King in the crucial 25-54-year-old demographic. But that’s just an increase of 219,000 from 171,000.
Morgan has had several successes lately. After a petition circulated online to deport him due to his opposition to gun rights, he began booking a series of far-right gun advocates to bolster ratings and make his own position look good. Most successful was his completely over-the-top gun control interview with conspiracy theorist and noted wacko Alex Jones, a masterpiece of booking rather than substance – Morgan mostly just let Jones talk on his own. It was a bizarre spectacle, with Jones screaming over Morgan’s rather subdued attempts at questioning, tying gun control into theories of a pending New World Order, and culminating in Jones mocking the host in surprisingly accurate fake British falsetto. That week Morgan beat all of his CNN competitors and scored, as of today, well over 8 million views.
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan – also a Brit – recently called Morgan’s show “dumb” and “disgusting,” a “rolling freak show designed entirely for ratings, since Morgan has never actually practiced anything but gutter tabloid journalism.” Similarly, blogger Michael Moynihan called him out for the “silliness of the Drudge and Morgan-style debate, which has abandoned reason for moral outrage.”
Morgan defended himself in a interview posted Thursday with Politico, calling Sullivan “extremely bitchy, deeply unpleasant, rather confused” and someone who “despises the very spittle I put on the floor.” He claimed his focus on gun control helped shape the national debate, and said his program influenced the president’s decision to propose a ban on assault weapons. He responded to criticism from King that he was seeking out Mike Tyson-style stacked bouts to bolster his own image, saying “I’m a journalist and he’s not. Larry isn’t a journalist, never has been.”
He said he can compete with the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow, because he claims he has a unique vision for his show. Morgan points out those shows are consistent – viewers always know what they’re going to get.
Meanwhile, Morgan would like his show to “be edgy and provocative and challenging,” Morgan added. ”When you’ve had a week of that maybe on a Friday night you have an hour of me and Charlie Sheen just sitting back and riffing about life in the Universe, you watch it for an hour, and rather than be some pompous, D.C., political hack, whose never done anything else in his life, who sits there going, Why isn’t he only asking him about the debt ceiling!? — which is possibly the most boring story in the history of politics — they can actually watch an hour of Charlie Sheen and think, that was fascinating and entertaining and funny, and above all, great television.”
Yet, with less than 18% the viewership of the O’Reilly Factor and just 54% of Rachel Maddow’s audience, Morgan is increasingly looking less like a breakout success and more like a flopping fish on the deck, trying desperately to find his way back into the water.