When broadcasting legend Larry King announced his retirement from CNN, media watchers buzzed about who would fill the coveted chair. When news hit that CNN had given the gig to Piers Morgan, many people shared the same reaction: Who in the world is Piers Morgan?
You may know him as the brash British judge from America's Got Talent or the first winner of Celebrity Apprentice, but Piers Morgan has been stirring things up in the United Kingdom for more than 20 years.
He got his start as an entertainment writer and at 30 was named editor-in-chief of the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid. In 2004, the Daily Mirror published photos of what was believed to be British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. After the photos were revealed to be alleged fakes, Piers was fired.
Despite the setback, Piers reinvented himself with a career in television, including a top-rated British talk show. His unique and revealing interview style caught the eye of CNN and landed him the job of a lifetime as Larry King's successor, with the show Piers Morgan Tonight.
Piers' first guest was none other than Oprah. Oprah says sometimes after she finishes an interview, she realizes there was a question she missed with the guest. "Is there something you wish you'd asked?" Oprah asks.
"Funny enough, about two or three days afterwards, I was thinking, 'What's the one thing I forgot to ask Oprah in this interview that the whole world was watching?'" Piers says. "And it came to me.
"Is there something you want to tell me?" Piers asks Oprah. "Is there a secret half-sister called Patricia that you have forgotten to mention in my interview?"
Piers says missing out on breaking the story of Oprah's half-sister isn't his only recently lost scoop. "The last interview I did in Britain before I came out here in December was Sir Elton John. And, again, I thought I'd done this amazingly brilliant interview...until two weeks after it aired [when] he reveals he's had a baby," Piers says. "And I was like, I didn't even know he was pregnant! So I'm really not having a good run."
Piers says when he set out on his mission to get Oprah to agree to be his first guest, he knew exactly where to start: Gayle. "If you want to get an interview with Oprah, here's what you do. You remember that film, You've Got Mail? It's a bit like that," Piers says. "I'd write, 'Dear Gayle: You don't know me, but I really need to make you like me.'"
The day after her interview with Piers, Oprah told a reporter about her experience. "She said, 'That was one of the toughest interviews I've done,'" Piers says. "And then she said, 'I had to go home, I had to have a hot bath and two Anacin.'"
Oprah says she was surprised by how expertly Piers steered the interview to the topics he wanted to talk about, including politics and Oprah's love life. "I will tell you, I went in the interview with my own things to talk about. I went in and I was going to talk about [the Oprah Winfrey Network], I was going to talk about ending the show and I was going to talk about Australia," Oprah says. "I ended up talking about none of that!"
Piers says he owes his achievement to his parents' sacrifice, devotion and hardworking example. "We grew up in a country pub," he says. "My parents ran the pub and I used to, at the age of about 6 or 7, used to help them do what we call the bottling up. So when all the people have been in the night before drinking away, they obviously had empty bottles, which I had to ferry away, and [I would] bring in new ones from the cellar.
"When I went to school at age 6, down at the primary school down at the end of the road, I used to smell of alcohol. So eventually my mother was summoned down by the head teacher and they said, 'Mrs. Morgan, there's a slight problem. Your 6-year-old son is smelling as if he's intoxicated!'"
Other than Oprah, Piers says one of his favorite interview subjects on Piers Morgan Tonight has been English comedian Ricky Gervais, who sat down with Piers after hosting the Golden Globes. Even days after the awards show, Ricky's blistering monologue jokes about certain movie stars was the talk of Hollywood. "Everyone was expecting him to be a little bit contrite," Piers says. "And instead he came out—I had a couple of beers lined up, English beers—and he just said, 'What, I don't regret anything.' I loved it. I thought, 'Good on you, Ricky.'"
The other interview that Piers says he really loved was with Clooney...not George, but his father, Nick. "I did George the first half and then his dad came out and ... he's better looking than George, and even George admitted that. And he was so civilized and intelligent and charming. And you could see immediately where George got it all from," Piers says.
"I've heard you say before that actually the most memorable moments of your 25 years, most of them don't involve famous people,” Piers says to Oprah. “They're just real people. You know people say 'ordinary' people [but] they're not ordinary. Everyone's extraordinary."