Piers Morgan, the British television personality and journalist, has finally signed on to take his place in CNN's primetime line-up, ending months of speculation and protracted contract negotiations.
Morgan had been linked to the cable network for the past three months, earmarked as the prime candidate to replace the outgoing talk show icon Larry King. Morgan finally admitted last month that he had been in contract talks with the ailing network over a new primetime show.
The former Fleet Street editor, best known in the United States for his appearances on NBC's America's Got Talent and The Celebrity Apprentice, will take over in the 9:00pm (ET) weeknight timeslot from January next year. The final edition of Larry King Live will air on 16 December.
"I have watched Larry King Live for much of the last 25 years, and dreamed of one day filling the legendary suspenders of the man I consider to be the greatest TV interviewer of them all," Morgan said.
"It kind of feels like, I would imagine, the guy who's told, 'you're following Frank Sinatra'... Your first reaction is: what? How can you follow a legend like that? And then you think what a challenge, what an honor [it is] to be able to fill the shoes of someone like Larry King."
Morgan had been considered the overwhelming favourite to take the helm in the 9:00pm timeslot ever since speculation about King's future escalated in June.
But negotiations had been subject to a series of delays: Morgan's existing contract with NBC resulted in drawn-out talks between CNN's owner Turner Broadcasting and NBC's parent NBC Universal, while the television personality reportedly encountered difficulties in his visa application process.
'Posing tough questions'
Morgan spent ten years as a tabloid editor in Britain, becoming the editor of the News of the World in 1994 at the age of twenty-eight, before heading across to take the editorship of the Daily Mirror the following year: a position he held until 2004.
"Piers has made his name posing tough questions to public figures, holding them accountable for their words and deeds," said CNN's president, Jon Klein.
"He is able to look at all aspects of the news with style and humor with an occasional good laugh in the process."
Morgan's career has not been without controversy. British television personalities including Ian Hislop and Jeremy Clarkson have had highly publicised run-ins with Morgan, fuelled by claims of intrusions into their private lives. In one infamous incident in 2004, Clarkson punched the then-Mirror editor three times at the British Press Awards.
Since quitting the Mirror, Morgan has moved into television, taking on regular roles in series such as America's Got Talent and ITV's Britain's Got Talent. In 2009, he began hosting his own chat show on ITV entitled Piers Morgan's Life Stories.
The deal in context
CNN's pursuit of Morgan forms part of its attempts to stop the downward spiral in its popularity over the last two years. King's programme - which recently celebrated 25 years on the air - is at all-time lows in the ratings, averaging just 674,000 viewers in the second quarter of 2010 - far behind cable rivals such as Fox News and MSNBC.
Those networks have increasingly pulled ahead of the once-dominant news broadcaster, pulling in viewers with their more overtly partisan approaches to political commentary.
By signing Morgan, CNN has avoided going down the same path, keeping in line with its stated intention to remain non-partisan. Morgan told journalists following the announcement that he would avoid trying to "shove [my opinions] down my viewers' throats", indicating that he regarded such an approach as excessively "self-indulgent".
But the move nevertheless marks a potential shift in the way that CNN attracts and markets itself to audiences. While neither Morgan nor CNN outlined a clear vision for what the new programme, it is expected that Morgan's show will seek to draw in new viewers who are less inclined to dip in to the politics-heavy options on cable news channels.
Media Spy discussion: CNN